From DEEN KEEGAN, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR. SOCIETY HILL PLAYHOUSE
“Over the past several years, the new plays we’ve done have each come in a different way. One piece came to me because friends in Maryland saw it and said they thought it was a piece we’d like to do; the gal who wrote it is a college professor, and she had not sent it out, so that was a match made through a theater patron. A couple of years ago, I saw a piece at a musical theater festival showcase, and the writer was very anxious to get it produced outside of the workshop, and that was another thing we did. One writer from San Francisco sent a query (when we look at plays, we want to see hard copy), and it was intriguing, so we did a reading and liked it enough to do a full production. Some years, we develop original material at the theater. One of the determining factors for us we do not have a subscription audience, so it’s really risk-taking when we do a new play and the financial aspect is very important. I have one now that I really like but it has no commercial appeal. I do lot of work with crime fiction, produced a lot of conferences, and I have a piece that’s two characters, very noir, and I would really like to do it, but we’re not going to get an audiences. It comes down to that judgment so much.
“A writer needs to look at what the theater is currently doing. For instance, I got a query about historical play with 18 characters; that was a waste of the playwright’s time. Our experiences with new playwrights have been very good and very bad. You take their child, and I won’t be specific, but one play was not perfect and the writer got hysterical: “You’re ruining my play!” We wanted him to look at the piece and see what didn’t work. We have a playwright we’ve worked with over the years, Walt Vail, who wrote a piece called Branch, and we did that. It’s great fun to have that relationship and that’s another thing we see: playwrights do they get established with a theater and that’s a really good thing for a playwright.
“We started 54 years ago, when there were no theaters in Philly other than main commercial houses. It was not easy to open, but for 25 years, we were really unique in that we did all modern pieces—European and American 99 percent premieres. But the times changed radically and, to continue operating, we knew that we were going to have to change format. There are about 80 theaters in Philadelphia now; it’s a very vibrant scene, but I look for something very commercial and audience appealing for the mainstage, which seats 250. The electric company doesn’t want to know about art; they want the bill paid.”
My nutshell takeaway: 1) the truth hurts 2) believing in long shots is a vital part of one’s strategy 3)
Until next time, don’t forget about Trade A Play Tuesday!