Sunday, January 30, 2011

New Play Map

A few weeks ago, The New Play Institute at Arena Stage launched the New Play Map an open-source, user-generated, collaborative project to map the American new play sector. The purpose is to make visible – for the first time ever – all the organizations, activity, and generative artists that comprise our yet unknown infrastructure for new work.
Essentially, as the map becomes better known, theater companies, conferences, and festivals that present or develop new plays as well as generative artists (which could be either playwrights or collaboratives) can add themselves and the organizations with whom they work. The idea is that much like various projects of the WikiMedia Foundation, the more users providing information, the more useful the map.

I admit that when I first placed myself on the map, I did not fully grasp the utility of the tool, and shared some concern with Dan Rubin at Dark Knight Dramaturgy that the system could be "overwhelmed" and I even expressed concerns that only an early adopter would reap the benefits, but I'm beginning to see that my understanding of the potential was limited.

Trisha Mead, writing on the New Play Blog, suggests a number of uses:

• An easy visual snapshot of the new play work happening nationally, helping playwrights, funders (and possibly journalists) identify hot spots as they emerge

• A research resource for literary managers and artistic directors to discover new projects in development and join the group of institutions helping to bring them to fruition.

• Built in documentation for funders of a given project, creating a public and verifiable reference for each step in a play’s development.

The more obvious use for me, as a playwright, is that of identifying organizations that might wish to present and develop my work. As Mead suggests, for those attempting to identify how the new play sector actually functions, as opposed to how we imagine it functions, there's a place where empirical data is being compiled:
For instance, were one to investigate how I operate (and I still haven't put in all my data points) one would notice that much of the time, I tend to either self-produce in, or have my work presented by, non-traditional venues. Someone could ask: Is this a viable strategy for playwrights developing and presenting new work? Am I unusual in that regard or are there a number of playwrights out there using similar strategies? Should more traditional presenting organizations adjust their policies to take in account that this is going on? Alternately, does being entered into the map provide a potential opening for a similarly operating artist to "go mainstream?" Will the map show us models to be adopted or show us where initiatives are needed?

How do I work this?

(Yes, I did once describe the Talking Heads' major accomplishment as being "letting a generation of geeks and nerds know that it was okay to dance." Dancing is cool. I highly recommend it.)

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