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.

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.)

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Juggler Interviews, #13: Bonnie Duncan

Bonnie Duncan and I have known each other more than ten years, and I've long been an admirer of her work as a dancer, actress, and all-around creative person and storyteller.  Her husband, Dan Milstein, directed my play, Pieces of Whitey, for Rough & Tumble way back in 2005 in Boston. Bonnie makes up half of the creative performance duo, They Gotta Be Secret Agents, along with Tim Gallagher. They about to bring their show, Poste Restante, back to the Charlestown Working Theater in Boston, February 20-23, which is very exciting--it's one of the most memorable pieces of theatre I've seen in Boston. In addition to be a busy creative performing artist, Bonnie is also the mother of three (delightful) children under the age of five. So I was glad she was able to find some time (after performing in NYC last weekend) to answer some questions.

Hi, Bonnie.  Thanks for appearing on the blog, in my revival of the Juggler Interviews.  Which seems sort of appropriate given your show, Poste Restante, which has a certain magic theatricality to it (though no juggling). 

Can you explain a little bit about the creative process that you and Tim used to create the show?  You'd worked together extensively before, right?  Do you write down a storyline and images, or are you creating a lot of what happens in rehearsal?
Tim and I performed together for 6 years with Snappy Dance Theater (a collaborative dance company based in Boston from 1998-2007) and we naturally gravitated towards each other when developing new work.  Physically, our bodies worked well together and creatively, our minds melded well.  We toured a lot with Snappy so Tim and I became travel friends--we rented a tiny car and sped around the south of France and Italy.  It was amazing!  Once Snappy closed its doors in 2007, we decided we still wanted to work together and started to make new work, not knowing where it would lead us.  Three years, one baby, and a move to Philadelphia later, we finished Poste Restante.

But, let me back up a bit about our process...we usually start a piece with an image or a theme or idea.  We approach the work as dancers first, playing around with movement in rehearsal--videotaping & writing things down, and then we turn to our theatrical sides to shape the phrases and images.  For example, the first piece we made for Poste Restante, "Return to Sender," started out as a very slow, dark love story until one day we met for rehearsal at the Southeast Corridor park by Stony Brook T stop (free rehearsal space!) and Tim was carrying a box.  He simply said, "I want to figure out how to get you in this box."  The piece came together in about 45 minutes because it just clicked with the movement we had.  Here's a video clip of one of our first performances (filmed at HONK! with Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band):

When we decided to make a full-length piece, we explored many themes until we hit upon the Dead Letter Office, an office operated by the US Postal Service to deal with undeliverable mail.  We were so intrigued with what could be held at this office that we focused our work mail from then on.  Each section was developed differently:  there are some stop-motion films that Tim shot in Philadelphia and posted to flickr.  I then edited the film from Boston.  Another section was inspired by a desk lamp in my office; another section was inspired by Tim's design of a hat with shadow screens hanging on it.  Because we took our time developing the show and we did not see each other regularly, we were able to explore a lot of things and find exactly the right theatrical touch for each moment of the piece.  
If anyone out there is interested more in how we make our work, join us for our workshop this Saturday, 2-4 pm @ Charlestown Working Theater---Mission: Demystifying the Creation of Physical Theatre.

So, you guys started They Gotta Be Secret Agents before you had kids, right?  Where does this show fit in the timeline of  you becoming a mother, with the arrival of your first son, and then later with your twins?

Yes, we started the Secret Agents before I had kids.  Tim lived down the street from me at the time.  We made about 20 minutes of the show (9 of which we kept!) and then I got pregnant and Tim moved to Philadelphia.  Needless to say, we took about 13 months off and just mailed each other ideas.  We then met on the weekends in Philly or Boston (working on sections solo in-between rehearsals) until we had our first version of Poste Restante.  My son was 8 months old when we performed at the San Francisco Fringe Festival.  Making the show with a baby was super simple (I can say that now, of course!) because he was not very mobile and slept a lot.  Once he could crawl, my work time was crushed and the grandparents were called upon to help out.  A lot.   We then reworked the show and toured it to Europe the following year, taking my son with us.  It was such an adventure.  People's response to the show was so amazing during that tour--we were invited to perform at festivals all over--but our lives got in the way of pursuing those opportunities immediately:  Tim got accepted to medical school at NYU and I found out I was having twins.  These changes were shocking for both of us.  

But, Tim and I still corresponded a lot and we started a shared Pinterest board that we keep: 

When the twins were six months old, we were invited to perform out in Austin, TX so we packed everyone up (plus a grandparent!) and headed out.  We both missed the show terribly so it was a joy to be back on the road together.  The tour wasn't our usual because Tim was studying between shows and I was cooing at the babies---it was surreal for us!

How has being a mother affected your creative process? Time and energy can be at a real premium when you have small kids around  How are you managing to juggle, not just creating a show, but also performing and touring?
Pat, I have to say that you have been a role model of how I want to juggle creating work and being a parent!  Naps and early bedtimes are the short answers to how to how I've made it work.  The longer answer involves erasing how I used to work and redefining my process.  Because I have such regimented time periods these days, I feel like I work to focus my attention within a short block of time as best as I can.  I struggle with it because sometimes I just have to goof off in order to get to the good ideas.  I often feel most days like everything is half-finished.

I made Squirrel Stole My Underpants with only six hours of childcare a week.  My husband (Dan Milstein, director of Rough & Tumble Theatre) and I rehearsed late into the night in our dining room and I would spend weekends building set pieces.  There would be weeks when the kids were sick when we got nothing accomplished.  It was one of the hardest artistic processes I've ever had because just when I would get momentum, someone would get a fever or a babysitter would cancel.  

Once Squirrel was finished, I've been able to schedule performances around family obligations.  One goal for me in touring this show is to go on family adventures.  This past summer my oldest son toured with me to Long Island--he sold popcorn and watched the show each day.  He had his first hotel stay!  For other tours and performances, I've gone alone (woot!) and Dan has held down the house.  Those are all of the good parts of touring with small children.  The hard and exhausting parts are arranging travel plans.  We performed in New York City this past weekend and it was as total nightmare of logistics.  Between the snow storm Thursday, grandparents' travel plans, our need of getting our set back to Boston, a car breaking down, and three babysitters/friends helping out, it felt like a Secret Mission gone awry.  But, we don't make theater to be boring so it's the adventures along the way that make it all worth while.  

Do you use your kids as a captive audience, now that you've been working on shows for younger kids, like Squirrel Stole My Underpants
I definitely test material and aesthetics on my kids right now.  I have to admit that I've used rehearsal as a bribe incentive---"if you can get ready for bed then you can see a new scene" sort of thing.  The kids are coming to see Poste Restante for our Sunday matinee with a babysitter.  Dan runs our lights and I'm on stage so what could possibly go wrong?!!  :)

One of the great things about your work, in Poste Restante as well as in your other shows, is the inclusion of theatrical transformations, shifting the embodiment of a character from a real-live human to a puppet or some other object.  For kids, this sort of imaginative fluidity comes naturally. Is this something you've always been interested in seeing on stage?
I've always loved breaking up stage reality so that the audience has to work a bit.  Snappy worked with transformations a lot---moving between theater and dance.  I love performing Poste Restante because our stage magic surprises and delights adult audiences.  We take care of them so that people don't have to worry where they are in the narrative while we play with how we tell the story.

You've toured Poste Restante internationally--any good stories or moments from those shows you can share?  What happened to allow you to bring the show back now?  (I'm glad folks in Boston will have another chance to see it.)
When went through customs in the Czech Republic, we had to explain what was in all of the boxes we carried with us.  We tried to pantomime that we had cardboard and paper in our cardboard boxes.  We pantomimed dancing.  We smiled a lot.  The customs officials were perplexed.  Then, I found one of our show postcards and they nodded their heads, "Ahh, ac-TORS," and we were on our way.

In Prague, we performed in a basement theatre.  And, basement in Prague equals an arched stone tunnel that used to be part of holding cell for prisoners of Prague Castle.  We had the stage measurements but when we got there, things were a lot smaller than we expected.  We barely fit on the stage and had 10 minutes to set up and break down--it felt crazy but when we finished the first performance, the crowd exploded with excitement.  It was the moment when we knew we had something very special.  Here's a video of our walk to the theatre each day:

Tim cooked up this tour after he found out he had the month of February off of medical school.  It has been a joy performing the show again and sharing it with new audiences.  The folks at Charlestown Working Theater are wonderful.  They've supported us for years and it means a lot to be part of their community of artists and audiences.  This is probably our last performances of the show in Boston so it's especially wonderful to be there.

What's up next?
Tim starts his residency in Emergency Medicine in June so we'll continue to mail each other ideas.  We'll slowly work on a new show, probably finishing in 4-5 years.  Meanwhile, I'm keeping busy with a new show I am developing for families that will premiere next January at Puppet Showplace Theatre.

Thanks for the taking the time, Bonnie.  And break a leg this week in Boston!

Thanks for having me, Pat!  And, if readers buy tickets for Thursday's show, they can mention the code "secret" (be sure to use lowercase letters) and get half-price tickets.

Poste Restante in Boston, FEB 20-23 from Bonnie Duncan on Vimeo.

Tim and Bonnie.  Photo by Kathy Moloney

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Moving (a life in boxes) giveaway on Goodreads

I'm still doing everything I can to get copies of my new novel, Moving (a life in boxes), into the hands of readers.  Right now, I'm running a giveaway over on Goodreads, where three people will win copies of the book.  It's easy to sign up (I'll paste the little widget below).  I hope you'll check it out!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Moving by Patrick Gabridge


by Patrick Gabridge

Giveaway ends February 17, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Friday, February 7, 2014

What are the Playwriting Odds (and the 4 ways writers can improve their chances)

C-3PO: Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1.
Han Solo: Never tell me the odds

A lot of playwrights approach the business end of theater a little like Han Solo flying the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid field--we just hit the gas and go. But not all of us are skilled hyper drive navigators, so it might not hurt to give a little thought to where we're going and how we're getting there.

Gwydion Suilebhan has a great post this week over on his blog, about "Beating the Playwriting Odds" where he lays out some numbers about our field, and makes the case for being grateful about the productions that we get, and taking strong efforts to improve those numbers, and for being very grateful to the theaters who are producing new plays.  Which I agree with 100%.

But I want to look a little more closely at the actual odds we're facing, to be sure we're clear (given certain assumptions) on what the situation really is, and to have playwrights think carefully about whether they're taking the right actions to boost their chances of success.

First, let's look at Gwydion's assumptions:
  • By my best estimate, there are approximately 10,000 playwrights living in the United States. I base that figure on a small number of sources, from membership in the Dramatists Guild to the number of entries in Doollee, and though it might be off somewhat—the number could even be as high as 20,000—it’s accurate enough for the moment.
  • Each of those playwrights produces, on average, approximately one new play a year. Some may finish two or three, and some may have entirely fallow years… but one seems to be a believable estimate. So that’s 10,000 new plays (one per playwright) entering the American theatrical landscape every twelve months.
  • At the same time, there are approximately 500 world premieres of new plays at regional theaters every year. I’m also uncertain about that number, but I don’t think I’m off by very much. (I’m also not including, for the record, fringe festival or university or workshop productions.) Is the number as high as a thousand, even? Maybe: so, okay, let’s use 1,000.

So if you take those numbers together—10,000 new plays annually for 1,000 world premiere production slots—then for a playwright, the odds of having a new play produced in any given year? They’re only 10%.
The other 90%? They never get produced.
To start out, let's use his number of 10,000 new plays a year, for 1,000 slots.  But the 10% figure as to your odds isn't necessarily right, outside of the most general sense, because:
  • No theater looks at all 10,000 plays.
  • No play selection is entirely random.
  • No writer can submit to all 1,000 theaters.
So what are your real odds, and what should you do to improve them?  (Part of what has me thinking about this is a great talk by my friend, director, and really smart guy, Dan Milstein, gave at The Lean Startup Conference last year. In same ways, playwrights are all mini startups. Key takeaway--make sure you're spending your time doing the right thing. If you don't know whether you are, stop and find out.)

Let's assume, for the moment, that instead of getting 10,000 plays for each new play slot, a theater only reads 500.  (FYI, the O'Neill got 1,200 submissions this year.)  This is better, right?  But keep in mind, that means that if you submit to this theatre, your odds of being picked are only 1 in 500.

That's a lot less than 10%.

Ah, but you submit to more than one theatre.  Assuming selections are entirely random, there's a way to calculate your odds based on how many submissions you make.

(But I can't get the damn equation to show up on Blogger.  It's not too crazy.  If you want a lesson on basic probability, I highly recommend this Khan Academy video.)

If you submit to 100 theatres that each accept 500 plays, your odds of acceptance turn out to be about 18.1% (in a world of random play selection).  So that's good news, right?  Better than Gwydion's 10%.

But most people don't submit each of their full-length plays to 100 theaters.

If you submit your new play to 50 theaters, your odds drop to about 9.5%.  Which seems pretty reasonable. (And is exactly what Gwydion predicted.) Except that still means that your play is more than 90% likely to remain unproduced.  Forever.

There are four main ways to improve these odds:

  1. Write better plays.
  2. Enter the right piles.
  3. Enter smaller piles.
  4. Enter more piles.
 Sounds good.  But how do you do this, and which is the best strategy (since you have limited time and energy)?

1.  Write better plays.  We're saying each theater gets 500 plays.  But as we know, the selection process isn't really random.  A lot of the plays in that pile aren't very good.  If you concentrate your energy on writing a better play, your scripts basically competes in a smaller sub-pile of the very good plays. Maybe you take some classes, join a critique group, read more plays, get readings and workshops, go to grad school, etc.  What if the quality of your play improves so that it's in the top 20% of every pile?  In essence, you've changed your competition from 500 scripts to 100 scripts.  Guess what: if you send out to 50 theatres now, your odds of a production jump to 39%.  Quality counts.

2.  Enter the right piles. Theaters are pretty specific in terms of the kinds of material they produce (whether they admit it or not).  They perform for a certain audience, within certain constraints.  Some companies focus on comedies.  Others, like New Jersey Rep, do a lot of new plays, but they have a cast limit of 4. Some only do musicals.  You get the picture.  Unfortunately, a lot of playwrights don't. They submit somewhat randomly, to any theatre that appears in the Dramatists Guild Resource Directory, or that they can find online.  Submitting a script to the wrong theatre essentially gives you a 0% chance of production at that theatre. If you make this mistake 10% of the time, your 50 submissions are really only 45. For an average quality script, this drops your acceptance rate to 8.6%.  This is a simple problem to avoid, with a little basic research. If you don't know anything about a theatre and the kind of work it does, you've got a high probability of wasting your time.  (And you're clogging the system for everyone else.) 

3.  Enter smaller piles. Here's where you can make a big difference in your acceptance rate. If, instead of submitting to the same place as everyone else, you get your script to a theater that reads a smaller number of scripts, your chances go up fast. In Boston, where I live, the Huntington Theatre has an amazing fellowship program that's only open to New England writers. They take three Fellows each cycle. In the most recent cycle they had 68 applications That's 1-in-23!  It's doesn't guarantee production, but you do get a reading from a major LORT theater, a chance to work on your plays with really smart people, other doors open, and you now have access to other smaller piles. There's another theater here, Fresh Ink, that also produces only local writers, and only reads the first 40 plays they get.  Of these, they'll pick 3 for production.  Yep, if you submit to Fresh Ink, your chances are 1 in 13 of landing a production!  If you change your marketing focus to finding opportunities with odds of 1 in 50 or less, you would have a likely acceptance rate of better than 18.2% with just TEN submissions.  Finding such chances requires paying close attention to the theater world around you and doing some strong networking.  In Boston, smart writers watch the StageSource weekly newsletter closely for locally focused opps--I got a commission to write a musical from a StageSource ad last year (and it premiered in November).  In addition, we should encourage resources that publish submission opportunities to list the annual number of submissions they receive (like the DG Resource Directory and NYCPlaywrights). I used to list this stat when I published Market InSight... for Playwrights--it's a critical piece of information for writers to make smart choices about where to submit.

4.  Enter more piles.  This one's pretty clear.  If you only submit to 10 theatres with 1-in-500 odds, your chances of selection are 1.9%  If you send to 100, you get to 18%  Taking this route takes a lot of time--joining groups like the Binge can help get you some motivation and ideas for places to submit.  NYC Playwrights is a great site with submission opps.

With these four options, you can see why grad school seems to be an increasingly appealing option for writers trying to get more productions.  In theory, getting your MFA will help you write better plays, while also gaining you access to smaller piles.  (For example, Boston Playwrights Theatre produces 3 world premieres every year, but only produces plays by writers associated with BU and their graduate program.)

You can also see why Gwydion has started a cooperative playwrights' theatre company, The Welders, following the model of 13P, and why a similar group, Boston Public Works, has been started by 10 Boston playwrights.  Through self production, you don't have to worry about the odds at all (but you have plenty of other things to worry about).  I did the same sort thing with a bunch of fellow playwrights when we formed Chameleon Stage in Denver, back in 1993.  It's a lot of work, but it gets your work on stage.

The bad news is that new plays face very long odds in their search for a first production, but the good news is that playwrights can be smart and proactive in making those odds more favorable.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Giving Away 3 Signed Copies of Moving (a life in boxes)

The new paperback version of Moving (a life in boxes) is out, and I'm eager to get it into the hands of readers.  To start, I'm going to do my first Rafflecopter giveaway of three signed copies.  I've never used this application before, so we'll have to see how it goes. In theory, it's supposed to be easy (for both you and me).

Sign up!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I want to share what a few of my fellow writers and friends have had to say about the book:

What Others are Saying about Moving (a life in boxes)
“When you’re always in motion, where does the heart come to rest? Patrick Gabridge’s latest novel brilliantly illuminates a relationship that’s forever looking over the horizon — and what happens when two people who’ve always grown together may now be growing apart. Insightful, compelling and beautifully detailed, Moving is that rare book whose effect on the reader is exactly described by the title.”     –Mike Cooper, author of Clawback

“In Moving (a life in boxes), Patrick Gabridge has rendered a story brimming with passion, humor, and irony as it rides the inner roller coaster of one unconventional couple’s marriage in modern times. Be prepared to take sides and don’t be surprised if you change your mind.”    –Jessica Maria Tuccelli, author of Glow

“In Moving (a life in boxes), Patrick Gabridge unpacks the fascinating history of a peripatetic marriage, defined by eighteen years of moves, open houses, real estate brochures, and a stash of marked-up cardboard boxes awaiting their next journey — until the couple come to a crossroads. Artfully plotted, emotionally stirring, and often laugh-out-loud funny, Moving bravely explores the mysterious terrain of modern marriage, and offers an intimate look at a family who will take up residence in your heart.”   –Diana Renn, author of Tokyo Heist

“With a playwright’s eye for telling detail and ear for crackling dialogue, Patrick Gabridge’s Moving (A Life in Boxes) vividly captures the complexity of modern marriage. After eighteen years and eighteen moves, Lila and Jed have finally settled down. But what does it mean to stay in one place when your life has been built around moving and change and the next new experience? Is it possible to let go of your dreams without losing who you are? Gabridge creates a lyrical and unexpected love story about a man escaping his present only to be drawn back to the family he adores.”  –Laura Harrington, author of Alice Bliss and winner of Massachusetts Book Award