If you don’t know what RIPP: Real Inspiration for Playwrights Project, please click here to get some context before reading. I have a feeling not everyone is doing this, as I keep getting emails from playwrights wanting to send me their plays or asking how to get produced which, again, is not the point of RIPP.
From LISA MALLETTE, EXECUTIVE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, CITY LIGHTS THEATER COMPANY:
“Working with a playwright on a new project—or on the marketing and/or presentation of a new project—can be quite exciting, and, as with any collaboration, it requires a real understanding of what the ultimate goal really is. There are times in which a producer’s notion of a successful project differs dramatically from that of the playwright, and much depends, of course, on what the playwright’s definition of ‘success’ really is (just like an actor’s, or a director’s, or any artist’s, particularly when collaboration is involved).
“If ‘success’ is a Broadway production—or similar exposure of the work on a ‘grand’ scale—then that can be a tough nut to crack, and that kind of goal can actually be counterproductive where new work is involved. If ‘success,’ however, is the writing of a theatrical work, regardless of genre, that gets premiered and produced by a reputable company, then that’s something much more manageable and, indeed, is a worthy goal that can truly inspire both the playwright and the producer.
“Further, ‘success’ may be getting ‘picked up’ or ‘adopted’ by a company that the playwright can consider ‘home,’ a place where he or she can experiment with new work knowing that workshops and eventual production are part of the playwright/producer relationship; this may well be a playwright’s “dream come true”—identical, really, to that of an actor who wishes to be part of a company. What is also essential, of course, especially during the ‘courtship’ between a playwright and a producer, is for the playwright to have a rather in-depth knowledge of that producer’s aesthetic, the kind of work he or she favors, what the mission of the company is, etc., etc. Knowing the organization well and developing that relationship is key. It can be a long process as well. It sometimes takes years from first contact to full production.
“Some years ago, City Lights Theater Company produced the world premiere of Charles Evered’s Clouds Hill, directed by the playwright. Mr. Evered acknowledged the great value in having his work premiered at a smaller company; success there can lead to bigger things for a new play and its playwright, while failure does not necessarily result in the death of the play! Small professional or even semi-professional companies are often the ideal venue for unveiling new work for precisely this reason; success can open doors, while failure need not necessarily close them for good!
“We do many premieres at City Lights Theater Company. We have a world premiere opening June 1, as a matter of fact, Michael Mitnick’s SPACEBAR, A Broadway Play by Kyle Sugarman. I discovered the play at a reading I attended, presented by the Playwrights Foundation over a year ago, here in the Bay Area. I would advise playwrights that readings are an integral part of this process and should not be underestimated. Work on getting producers and artistic directors in the room!
Don’t be discouraged. Storytelling is an honorable yet difficult profession for all involved. I look at every new script as if it could be the next great play by the next great American playwright! Second Weekend in September by Andrew Black, and First Day of School by Billy Aronson were both unsolicited submissions.”
My nutshell takeaway: I love Ms. Mallette’s advice, because it’s not just about “If nobody will produce you, produce yourself.” It’s about having patience, and setting realistic and attainable goals. If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you have friends and family who say, “Would it be great if your play got picked up for Broadway?” Why are we so conditioned to think not just about end results, but huge ones?
My son often tells me he wants to be a major league ballplayer, and my response is always “Have fun. Make the high school team. Then worry about getting a college scholarship. Then we’ll talk.” I’ve said it often enough that he has readjusted his thinking; I think that’s a valuable lesson, and one that Ms. Mallette is trying to impart. There is joy in the smaller steps—finally finding the fix for a scene, getting a ten-minute play accepted, hearing a play read aloud for the first time, talking with other playwrights—wherever they may lead. If there weren’t, none of us would be doing this at all. Ms. Mallette’s post reminded me of this. Wheels in the theater world turn very, very slowly; if we aren’t having fun along the way, we’re dead.
Thank you for all your comments in various venues, and your feedback on this project; it’s been rewarding to know that it’s useful.