I was asked to write a paper for my playwriting class about what shows written in the past year I would produce at my fictional theatre company. When I look at the world of new plays I constantly think of that first production. I am a firm believer that that first production and probably the next couple will be workshops. I feel they need to be. No matter how many read throughs are done for a new work, or how many different actors, directors, and artistic minds are in the room, the audience ultimately determines the next steps of each play: what’s playing, what’s going over their heads, etc.
In the season I hoped to create I picked shows that I felt were at that pivotal point, the point when they’ve had either only one or two productions and have had many drafts and changes, and are used to an audience. My season consisted of Robert Askin’s Hand to God, Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, and Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses.
Hand to God focuses on a group of teens in the Christian Puppet Ministry, an organization designed to teach children about the Bible through sock puppets. I believe theatre is a brilliant medium to start conversations about organized religion, a subject I have many strong feelings about, and a play that not only asks those questions, but does so in a comedic style with puppets, I’m all in for. According to the reviews I’ve read, it’s fast, funny, entertaining, challenging, and (most importantly) an incredibly playable and active script that I look forward to getting my hands on.
I’ve written about Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play in an earlier blog post (and it just came in the mail!) The play centers around a group of people traveling together after what appears to have been the apocalypse, and with none of the electric appliances and entertainment devices they’re used to, they’re forced to actually connect with one another. They all meet on a mutual love for “The Simpsons” and piece together their collective singular favorite episode from each of their memories. This manifests itself theatrically by having them all reenact the episode, or at least what they can remember, and find comfort in each other. I’m in the process of reading the script now and everything about feels very current and very actable.
The last play I chose for my season is one that honestly doesn’t need any help from my fictitious theatre company, It’s Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses and it’s having it’s second production this spring on Broadway with a cast including Toni Collette, Tracy Letts, and Michael C. Hall. This play features many interesting issues surrounding secrets and what we choose to disclose or not with close friends, spouses, and family. I’m particularly interested in the plays questions around an already lived life. Eno’s writing style has always interested me since I fell in love with his one-man show Thom Pain. His plays have a way of speaking directly to a modern audience with the amount of directness, humor, heart, and brutality that feels exactly right for the state of theatre right now.
In a sea of new plays that are emerging every year, more than ever, it’s very important to workshop. fortunately, or unfortunately, more shows are being written then there are theaters with the funding and energy, willing to produce them. It then becomes about fostering those first and second productions playability and audience response. How do we as theatre makers continue to find the new classics, how do we create the next wave.