Thursday, November 17, 2011


Currently, I have my two most recently completed (drafts of) plays in some form of developmental system. My play, “Our Time Has Come,” is being worked as part of The Actor’s Studio Playwright/Director Workshop and “I Heart Rock N Roll” (both titles, of course, subject to change at some point on their winding path…) is part of the CCP. This is, we’ll say, a bit of a strange feeling. Not unpleasant. Just strange. For me. Personally.

In school, I was told two closely related things: 1.) I would not be ready (not me personally, just the me who, like the others in my class, was about to get an MFA in playwriting) would not be ready to be produced professionally for a looooooong time (I was, after all, a student … a learner, not a doer … a, they should have been reminded, forker over of large sums of money for the privilege) and that 2.) readings were the way to go. Everyone loves readings. And readings will, no doubt, lead to productions once I am, if ever, ready. Become a gear in the developmental machine, they inferred, sit back and wait to feel the teeth…

(I’m actually a bit amused to see how bitter I still come off when I write about this.)

It became too much to be living and working in New York, blindly sending my plays around (which, for the record, were not the finest things ever put to playscript format. But that’s not the point … I’ll explain how that’s not the point … Maybe…) and getting invitations for readings of my friends’ thesis plays, now with their fourth different theater company, I thought (both rightly and wrongly, it turns out) that it was best to go it alone.

And so I didn’t worry about waiting until a script was ready (or even, sometimes, ready-ish) and getting feedback and rewriting and getting feedback and rewriting. I’d just put them up. I would rent the theater before I had begun writing the play. I would cast actors before I’d even written their parts. I would start rehearsal with a half-finished script (again: rightly and wrongly) and it would be the process of figuring out how to get the play to a place where we would be proud (or, at least, proud-ish) to get an audience to come see it was, for me, more instructive on how to write a play than any talkback after a reading had ever been. It was more instructive because I had to make the piece work for – and be exciting to – the artists who were creating the experience and, generally, if you can do that, you’ve got something that you can show people – and it’s a something that has the freshness that comes with not being overworked by the urge to please every opinion in the room.

Was everything brilliant? Probably just brilliant-ish. Or not. But that’s not the point. The point is not to be brilliant. The point is to do your work. To get in your reps. And to figure out how to do it all better.

So, why was my thought – that play development programs, in fact, do the exact opposite – both right and wrong?

It’s right because, yes, production, if one can be critical and honest with one’s self, is arguably (but nearly not so) the most useful process a playwright can take part in. It just is. And, yes, there is not enough money available to produce all the plays that get written- not even enough for all the plays that warrant production on some level, no matter how small. And, yes, readings and development too often seem like a lackluster way to fill up space on the calendar page.

But my thought is also wrong. It’s wrong mainly, out of the fact that I do not, it turns out, know all there is to know about all things. It turns out, that what benefits me is not always to everyone else’s benefit. It turns out, it turns out, that it is not all about me at all. Plus, barring the money to produce everything they want, theater companies still want to foster relationships with writers telling stories that excite them. And, mainly, it turns out that all I was doing by circling the wagons, so to speak, was finding the community who could most help my work to *ahem* develop to the point where I could tell stories that excited these people and that I might even be able to seek out, identify, or be identified by other communities who are, again, so to speak, in my wheelhouse.

To repeat: strange, not unpleasant, just strange, for me, personally. Not about me. And repeat...

- Robert Attenweiler

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