MY NEW SERIES: SUCCESS AND PLAYWRIGHTS LIVING OUTSIDE NEW YORK CITY (#PLONY)

August 10th, 2015 donnahoke

 

You really need to move to New York. You’ve heard that, right? I don’t live in New York City; is my playwriting career doomed? Sometimes, it seems that way—or at least seems as though others feel that way. Recently, on a panel of six playwrights, the five before me all introduced themselves, “I’m First Name Last Name. I live in New York.” And then it was my turn: “I’m Donna Hoke. I live in New York—Buffalo, New York.” There was a laugh, of course, but it becomes clear in those moments that the perceived place to be a “serious” playwright, or at least to forge a serious career, is New York. I’ve had conversations with New York theater people where I’ve talked about what I’ve got going on and received enthusiastic encouragement, followed by “Is there no way you can move to New York?” Sigh. I am, and will remain, for the foreseeable future, a Playwright Living Outside New York (#PLONY).

 

I don’t deny in any way that being in New York, or having easier access to it, could help—perhaps a lot. There are writers groups and residencies I can’t apply to, theaters I feel would be a good match that I can’t get to with any regularity, people I can’t socialize with, etc. Hard truth: this is and always will be first and foremost a business of relationships, and a lot of the people with whom playwrights should be having relationships are in New York. It’s no coincidence that the vast majority of big-name playwrights live in New York; even the Kilroys lists contain a disproportionate number of New York playwrights. Yes, the quality of the writing matters, but if you’ve spent any time on the New Play Exchange, you know that there are a lot of good writers: the relationships matter more. And because regional bias exists everywhere, including New York, New York playwrights are going to get produced more in New York, which still happens to have the lock on perceived legitimacy. No doubt: in an ideal world—or at least one where teleportation were possible—we’d all be able to ply our trade in New York City.

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But this is a real world, not an ideal one. Even for New York playwrights—and none of this in any way is meant to disparage them—nothing is guaranteed, and it’s still hard work to get noticed. And even though there is willing acknowledgement that great work happens outside New York City, and that great writing can happen anywhere, we’re probably not going to see a change in theater culture perception any time soon (there’s a reason people ask, upon hearing you’re a playwright, if you’ve ever had anything on Broadway).  But there are solid efforts.

 

The Dramatists Guild, which for years was a New York-centric organization, recognized the need to acknowledge the myriad playwright members who live across the country. The regional rep program—now with 30 reps serving—has expanded the Guild’s reach and made those playwrights feel part of the greater playwright community; I’m so proud to be part of that not just because the Guild rocks, but also because I believe in empowering playwrights in any way possible. The Dramatists Guild conferences also serve to connect us, and in many discussions with playwrights at the recent Dramatists Guild conference in July, I confirmed several things on this topic:

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1) Not all of us are in positions to move to New York. I’ve done my time there, but now I have responsibilities and commitments that preclude it, not the least of which is a partner who’s a musician in the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; that’s not a job you can just pick up and leave and expect to find another. I travel to NYC when necessary–even in and out on the same day–but I can’t live there.

 

2) Even if a move to New York is possible, not everybody wants to live there. Living in New York means committing to a certain lifestyle, one many won’t take on, even if it means the possibility of furthering their careers (the fact that it’s only a possibility is often the clincher).

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3) We have to redefine our notions of success in a business where success is too often equated with New York productions and the reviews that accompany them. While playwrights I talked to agreed that we would of course love to have New York productions (because again, those are the rules of the game), we also acknowledged that given the realities of #1 and #2 above, we’ve made peace with the improbabilities (not impossibilities!), and have found satisfaction in reaching other goals, and redefining what we call success for ourselves (even as, yes, of course, we continue to reach for the New York stars as best we can). That was the overwhelming idea that came up in discussion with Playwrights Living Outside New York, so much so that I thought I might submit the idea for a panel at the next Dramatists Guild conference—a suggestion that was enthusiastically encouraged.

 

So, in thinking about such a panel, I mentally listed playwrights I know who don’t live in New York City, and who do pretty darn well for themselves despite their geographic limitations. I came up with several names, and then thought, “Why wait? Why not talk to them now?  I sent a few emails, and, inside of an hour, I had four enthusiastic yeses to start with.

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And who better to kick off with than Eric Coble, who, by the way has had a play—VELOCITY OF AUTUMN—on Broadway, despite living in Cleveland. I’ve got several other impressive folks lined up as well. (But if you have other suggestions, please send them along.) I hope they will inspire all playwrights (this is not an us vs. them thing) with their wisdom, fortitude, and success! As I said above, I don’t think we’ll see a change in success perception any time soon, but I hope this series is a step in that direction both externally in how others view Playwrights Living Outside New York but, more importantly, internally—how we view ourselves.

 

Please follow me on Twitter @donnahoke or like me on Facebook at Donna Hoke, Playwright.

To read more entries in this series, click here or #PLONY in the category listing at upper right.

Playwrights, remember to explore the Real Inspiration For Playwrights Project, a 52-post series of wonderful advice from Literary Managers and Artistic Directors on getting your plays produced. Click RIPP at the upper right.

 

 

Please follow me on Twitter @donnahoke or like me on Facebook at Donna Hoke, Playwright.

Written by donnahoke

donnahoke

Dramatists Guild Council member and ensemble playwright-in-residence at Road Less Traveled Productions, Kilroys List and award-winning playwright Donna Hoke’s work has been seen in 40 states, and on five continents. Her full-length plays include THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR (Princess Grace semi-finalist, currently in its third year in rep in Romania), SEEDS (Artie award winner for Outstanding New Play), FLOWERS IN THE DESERT (AACT top 20 finalist), SAFE (winner of the Todd McNerney National Playwriting Contest, Naatak National Playwriting Contest, and the 2015 Great Gay Play and Musical Contest), and BRILLIANT WORKS OF ART (2016 Kilroys List, Winner HRC Showcase, Firehouse Festival of New American Plays, top ten Woodward/Newman finalist); she’s also authored more than two dozen short plays that have had hundreds of productions. Donna is also a New York Times-published crossword puzzle constructor; author of Neko and the Twiggets, a children’s book; and founder/co-curator of BUA Takes 10: GLBT Short Stories. For three consecutive years, she was named Buffalo’s Best Writer by Artvoice, the only woman to ever receive the designation.

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18 Comments on “MY NEW SERIES: SUCCESS AND PLAYWRIGHTS LIVING OUTSIDE NEW YORK CITY (#PLONY)”

  1. 1 Claudia Haas said at 10:29 am on August 10th, 2015:

    Grew up in NYC and did my time in NYC in my twenties, left and never looked back. My life is in the Twin Cities. I wouldn’t change it. Maybe because I started out in youth theatre (and continue there), NYC was not a necessity. Very fine youth theaters are speckled all over the U.S.A. The Twin Cities has a thriving theatre community and my adult plays have gotten attention here. I never had an eye on Broadway – so there is no wishing and hoping that I could return to NYC. I like the lack of density, the ease of finding natural beauty and the calm that my surroundings bring to my life. For me, they are more conducive to writing than the fast pace of my little hometown. I’m still part NYC. But have morphed into a whole lot of Minnesota!

  2. 2 donnahoke said at 10:30 am on August 10th, 2015:

    The irony for me is that I didn’t become a playwright until after I’d left NYC and the double irony is, if I hadn’t left, odds are good I would never have started writing.

  3. 3 Henry (Hank) W. Kimmel said at 11:08 am on August 10th, 2015:

    Donna, your response about not becoming a playwright until you left NYC resonates. When I moved to Atlanta, I’d figured that would be the end of having any chance of being a playwright. Instead, I realized that with a more intimate theatre community, those in a position of influence were not only more accessible but welcoming of those who were willing to make a commitment of time, effort and support. It’s also a lot cheaper place to live and raise a family — and go to theatre itself.

  4. 4 Renee Calarco (a proud D.C.-based playwright) said at 1:27 pm on August 10th, 2015:

    Thanks enormously for this, Donna. So many essential thoughts here, particularly about redefining (or straight-up defining) our notions of success.

    We are here! We are here! We are here!

  5. 5 donnahoke said at 1:28 pm on August 10th, 2015:

    Thank you! Straight-up defining=even better!

  6. 6 Maureen Brady Johnson said at 5:23 pm on August 10th, 2015:

    I grew up in Cleveland with a very rich heritage in Theatre…the Cleveland Playhouse, The Great Lakes Theatre Festival and Playhouse Square. My drama teacher in HS was Mary Bill who was the managing director of Playhouse square and was an incredible force in saving the old theatres and in educational theatre. I taught theatre for over 30 years and then became a playwright. I never felt less of a success because my colleagues in Cleveland and my mentor, Mary Bill, made me feel incredibly successful. Supporting each other regionally thru the DG and thru reaching out and personally knowing our playwriting community was the key to my feeling challenged and successful as a playwright. I Love NY but incredible playwrights are all around us, working hard to change the world.

  7. 7 Jeanne Drennan said at 7:17 pm on August 10th, 2015:

    Thank you for this piece. You’re right that regional bias exists everywhere, although here in Pittsburgh the bias has typically been against the local playwrights, New York still having that lock on legitimacy that you mention. Here’s a small example. In 2014, just out of curiosity, I did a count of the places of residence of the 35 O’Neill finalists, a prestigious group. Playwrights from NYC (and I included those with relatively easy commutes to the city from NY, CT, and NJ) accounted for 24 spots. The remaining 11 included 2 each from Chicago and LA and 7 others from 7 different states. I suppose it’s possible that two-thirds of the total number of plays submitted for the conference were from NYC and its suburbs, but I sort of doubt it. Carry on!

  8. 8 donnahoke said at 8:17 pm on August 10th, 2015:

    I don’t entirely doubt it, given that the O’Neill requires a month-long commitment in the NYC area; that would be hard for a lot of non-NYC playwrights to manage, I think. But of course I don’t know for certain. I’m curious as to why Pittsburgh regional bias would be against local playwrights.

  9. 9 Christine Evans said at 8:23 pm on August 10th, 2015:

    Great idea, Donna! Couple of suggestions: George Brant, who lives in Cleveland; Lauren Gunderson, who’s in Chicago; Aditi Kapil and Carson Kreuzer in Minneapolis.

    And I live in DC where I’m starting to get local productions and – more to the point- there’s a whole new work scene really taking off.

    Look forward to hearing and seeing more!

  10. 10 donnahoke said at 8:25 pm on August 10th, 2015:

    I have George on my list; I thought Lauren was in the Bay Area… Will check out the others; thank you!

  11. 11 Alan Woods said at 10:46 pm on August 10th, 2015:

    when we left NY for LA for additional training, NY theatre folk were horrified. When we left LA for Columbus for work, LA theatre folk were horrified. Found a vibrant theatre scene in C’bus, with 25 theatres in full swing, ranging from community to children’s to LGBT to ethnic to professional. Theatre is alive and well everywhere (well, almost everywhere).

  12. 12 Anthony DeLauder said at 11:58 pm on August 10th, 2015:

    That’s a wonderful post, Donna. I’ve read several of your past posts through links on “The Official Playwrights” page, and I always come away with new insights, or encouragement. And since I live in West Virginia and the nearest stop light is fifteen miles away, I feel disconnected sometimes. But then I catch myself and think, “If I lived somewhere else, would I be as motivated to produce work, and would that work be as authentic to who I am as a person?” Because I was born and raised here, so I believe if I moved away, it might diminish my voice as a writer. I don’t know if that’s logical or not, but, well, there it is! :) Thanks again for a great post. I look forward to reading the rest!

  13. 13 Jeff Lovett said at 7:58 pm on August 15th, 2015:

    I live in rural Georgia and have published 26 plays. So it can be done but I do believe that I would be more ‘respected’ if I lived in or near NYC. The publishers and critics based in NYC seem to look at people outside the city as non-artists. It’s sad but true.

  14. 14 donnahoke said at 10:00 am on August 17th, 2015:

    Jeff — can you tell us more? Where have your plays been published? How do you do production-wise? Do you have an agent?

  15. 15 Elly Rakowitz said at 2:46 pm on November 10th, 2015:

    Living in South Florida,original musical satire won 2014 IMEA (International Music & Entertainment Association) Award for Outstanding Original Book of a Musical & Nomination for Outstanding Original Score of a Musical. This has not opened any doors for us. Difficult to find an agent willing to read a Query. Open to suggestions!

  16. 16 donnahoke said at 3:09 pm on November 10th, 2015:

    Hi Elly — Same advice we gave on the Binge. Send it to theaters and development opportunities interested in new musicals so that it gets seen. That’s what will bring the agent.

  17. 17 Michelle R. Wood said at 7:59 pm on November 22nd, 2015:

    Thanks for this series (I just discovered it via Twitter) and for bringing attention to people outside the “Great White Way.” It’s not just playwrights: I’m a stagemanager (and aspiring director) who has never lived in NY, and have no specific plans to do so. Based on the experiences many of my classmates faced when going there directly after theatre school, I’m fairly certain I would no longer be in this field if I had done the same.

    Yes, relationships matter: and building relationships has been far, far easier for me by taking the slow but steady route rather than trying to light up Broadway immediately.

  18. 18 donnahoke said at 8:10 pm on November 22nd, 2015:

    Thank you; I’m glad you’re enjoying the series, and hope you’ll spread the word!


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