Thursday, August 20, 2015

The New Play Exchange: Recommendations Received and What I Have Learnt

In my previous post, I described the New Play Exchange in terms of some of the problems in "the new play sector" that I believe it may help resolve, noting how playwrights simply upload their plays and allow them to be searched by those seeking new plays to develop or produce.

A key tool that makes it possible for directors, literary managers, and dramaturgs to search for new plays is metadata. Some of that metadata is simply information about the themes, genre, and cast breakdown of the play -- data attached by the playwright. But there is also data added by the playwright's colleagues; other registered members of the Exchange: Recommendations.

Yesterday, I shared recommendations I have given to other playwrights' work. Today I share some recommendations that I've received.

Playwright Claudia Haas wrote the following about my as-of-yet unproduced one act play, Jan Kultura, Substitute Teacher, Meets the Crowd:

This is one high-octane, verbally rich play. The barbs and creative reasoning (appropriate for the "creative economics" debated here) kept me riveted to the page with huge smiles and chuckles. All four characters have the smarts and are engaging and you cannot wait to hear what comes next. As the play draws to a close, you are left with, "Wait? Satire? Or is this a truth about our current economic climate?" Theatres, universities and high schools would all serve this play well. And leave everyone discussing the play.

Asher Wyndham, on the other hand, recommended four of my plays. Concerning my The Conversos of Venice, the full-length play that has received the greater share of my creative energies over the last several years, he writes:

A great play for community colleges and universities or theatres that want to produce a historical drama that is not written by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. A captivating continuation of the Shylock story that is both comedic and tragic, with lines that capture the grandiose personality of each character. Great parts for actresses (esp. Gessica) and actors (esp. Shylock and the hilarious Capitano and Launcelot). The playwright's knowledge of the period, the alliterative power of the poetry, the rhetorical strategizing, the spectacle, the largeness of the world on the page and (hopefully) the stage is...breathtaking.

My one-act play, The Second Annual Administration Building Takeover And Slumber Party, had been slated to premiere this summer at a theater festival, but was cancelled after the the director and at least one actor pulled out, citing "scheduling conflicts". My colleagues have assured me that this isn't as unusual a circumstance as it should be. Nonetheless Wyndham was inspired to write:

Hey student actors! Are you disenchanted with academic administration? Then read this comedy, and perform it! This comedy is an intelligent, probing satire and criticism of administrative politics--- and it will certainly ruffle some feathers in administration. Honest, necessary political theatre just right for a daring group of actors. It's a lot of fun, with quick witty dialog. There's a pillow fight!!! The statement on student activism at the end of the play is powerful. There's no play like this.

Arlecchino Am Ravenous is arguably my most popular play. This one-act started life in 2008 as a structured, long-form improvised performance at the now defunct Willoughby & Baltic art space. I went on to perform it numerous times over the years. It was later performed by Jonathan Samson in Bangkok and presented as part of Laugh/Riot Performing Arts Company's short play festival, Rollercoaster. Arlecchino Am Ravenous also recently appeared in the literary magazine, Steel Toe Review which led to a project about which I hope to be able share news in the near future. Wyndham writes:

Arlecchino of Bergamo is an unforgettable, larger-than-life buffoon. From Heaven to Hell, from auto-cannibalism to clowning, the actor must showcase near madness, an animation and athleticism that is kind of like commedia del'arte to the power of 10. The playwright's logophilia -- the specificity, onomatopoeia and rhythm of Arlecchino's thought-process-in-action -- reminds me of wacky Mac Wellman.

The shortest play of the bunch is Two Cats Explain The Monstrous Moth Group which premiered last year as part of The Changing Scene Theatre Northwest's Summerplay festival. In Wyndham's words:

What's in Ian Thal's Kool-Aid? Whatever it is, I want to drink it. Cats & a bat in an attic -- Thal's images are wonderfully child-like. A perfect piece for puppeteers or costumers seeking a one-of-a-kind challenge. Fabulous, freaky, f-d up -- read it, perform it, direct it.

So What Have I Learnt?

A sample size of two playwrights, especially two who are bound by the rules of the NPX to only post positive recommendations, may be too small a group to arrive at any conclusions of my work, but there are a few things I can glean from them:

Both Haas and Wyndham suggest that at least three of my plays are ideal for a school environment -- particularly in a college and university theater setting (though I suspect that The Second Annual Administration Building Takeover And Slumber Party would be seen as "biting the hand that feeds you" if produced by a university theater department.) It's not something I've given a great deal of thought to, but both of them are more experienced than I am in the business, and if they consider that a potential market, then it's one I ought investigate.

There's also a lot of talk about my use of language: Haas describes one play as "verbally rich" ; Wyndham writes about my "logophilia", citing my "onomatopoeia and rhythm", "alliterative power of [my] poetry, [...]rhetorical strategizing". I take this to mean that it is evident to the reader that rather than setting out to be a dramatist from the beginning, I was a poet who chose to write plays out of a desire to work in long form.

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