Back in January, Ari Roth (Theater J's Artistic Director) posed a query about the How's and Why's of Play Commissions. A week or so before, my play, The Hampton Years, had just received it's first public reading. Here's what I wrote:
"I’ve been blessed to have received a number of commissions from a variety of sources: theatres, museums, a foundation honoring creative writers and an organization honoring local, regional and national theatre artists. I believe that commissions are essential. Not only for the livelihood, nourishment, and visibility of the playwright, but also for the awareness, vitality and sustainability of the theater institution and its community.
As has been discussed at length and deserves even further investigation, for an unknown or emerging playwright, it’s a rare and beautiful thing to have your play plucked from obscurity and produced. Self-production is an excellent, but exhausting exercise. The rewards vary, but ultimately it too is worth it. To be commissioned, however, is to be adopted by a particular theater. It is an opportunity to learn how a theater breathes, how its bones crack, where its joints ache, the flexibility and durability of its spine, how wide its wingspan … It is a chance to listen to the tempo of a theater’s heartbeat and to align yours either on the up or the down beat; to shoulder its burdens and concerns through your body; and to speak to its mission and vision through your voice.
Now, some adoptions don’t work out so well. The chemistry and biorhythms of the artists just don’t align. Perhaps a play is written that the theater doesn’t wish to produce, but the playwright loves and can take elsewhere. Perhaps a play is written and produced, but in a fashion that compromises the playwrights vision. The beauty is that the playwright can still take that play elsewhere. For me, the best commissions support, strengthen, honor, and challenge every single individual in the room. If all parties can remain decent and willing to listen to one another, if everyone can check their egos at the door and serve the play, then good things can happen. But none of this is easy. It takes work. It takes discipline, focus, attention to detail, openness, and trust.
Theater J gifted me the opportunity to write, The Hampton Years, a play that would not have existed had it not been for this commission. Before I even sat down to write, I had an artistic team at my side and an entire organization who wanted nothing more than to help me accomplish what I had to set out to do: to write a play. Six months and 170 pages later, they were still there, eager to read and respond to each and every word. When two weeks prior to the public reading, I discovered the need for two new characters to be played by one actor, I was met with a resounding, Yes! I believe Ari’s words were something to the effect of “go, write, dream, create a new role for an actor in the American Theater.” I have grown tremendously as writer. I see the enormous and lasting impact of this experience as I steady myself to rewrite one play and begin to write my newest play.
It is my sincere hope that Theater J continues these commissions. Their efforts are doing much to contribute not only to the DC Theatre community, to our actors, directors, dramaturgs, and playwrights; but also to that great entity, which is the American Theater at large."
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I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!