As always, if you don’t know what RIPP: Real Inspiration for Playwrights Project is about, please click here (the original idea) and here (the evolution of that idea) to get some context before reading).
From CYNDY MARION, PRODUCING ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, WHITE HORSE THEATER
“White Horse Theater Company is a very small not-for-profit off-off Broadway theater company dedicated to the production and development of American plays. We only produce a major (main stage) production once every 18 months, so obviously are very selective about the material we choose. To date, we have only produced established playwrights on our main stage—Sam Shepard, Tennessee Williams and Marsha Norman, to be exact. We tend to explore a writer’s body of work rather than just producing one isolated play. Our New Play Development Series offers readings, labs, and workshops of new plays and we find new playwrights via an open submission policy on our website. Of course, we also find playwrights through referrals and personal connections. We produce about one staged reading annually (sometimes more if we have scripts we are interested in). Three plays that started in our reading series moved on to have second readings, two culminated in lab productions and one went on to a full staged/designed workshop production.
“Of the three plays that made it beyond the reading series, one was originally introduced to us via an open submission. The playwright, Jess Foster, sent me a play of hers called Mourning Sun about a love affair between a Native American woman and a female tourist visiting New Mexico. I love New Mexico so was immediately pulled in by the piece; I am also a lesbian so the idea of this unlikely love story grabbed me. We did a reading of Mourning Sun and Jess (who was a student at The University of Iowa) came in for it. Although we ultimately decided not to move further with the development of the play, a relationship was formed and we knew we wanted to work with Jess in future. When she sent us Freezer Dreams, we decided to a do a reading right away. However, the reading did not help Jess or us to determine what was and was not working since the piece is highly visual and shifts in and out of reality, operating in dreamscapes much of the time. I felt strongly that we needed to get the play on its feet with actors in order to solve some of the issues that came up at the reading. So we gave the play and Jess a three-week rehearsal process with actors that culminated in two bare-bone performances. The rehearsal process proved vital to the writing process, and allowed Jess to see the words in action and [facilitate] rewrites. The performances were followed by talkbacks with the audience so that Jess could hear responses and questions. Being able to see the play in three dimensions allowed both Jess and us to really discover the style/movement of the play—something a reading could not have done.
“So, a blind submission led to a very rewarding creative process and relationship. Based on the Lab, we decided that White Horse was not the right home for a full production of Freezer Dreams. We do not have the budget or resources to serve the stylistic needs of the show as Jess currently envisions it. I do know however, that Jess made other connections through her involvement with us; in fact, as a result, she had a short play produced by the theater our lighting designer works with in Connecticut. We have also forged relationships with other playwrights via blind submission. Joe Musso submitted his play Roma to us several years back. I did not like the subject of the play, but found his writing style very intriguing so encouraged him to keep sending me his work. After reading several more of his plays, he sent us Blood Water. I was captivated by this script about New Orleans during Katrina. We ended up producing two staged readings and the play eventually found a production in Los Angeles at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theater, directed by White Horse Co-Founder Rod Sweitzer. Even if White Horse does not ultimately produce the new plays we develop, we can sometimes help find them the right home.”
My Nutshell Takeaway: I love this story because it’s truly a case of a cold submission leading to wonderful things, and that was the whole premise of RIPP from the start. While we all know that productions happen as a result of connections, and networking, and all those things that make business happen in every industry under the sun, those connections often begin with a random meeting, a chance encounter, an attraction between two people (or, these cases, an attraction between a reader and play). If I look to the productions I’ve had that are seemingly the result of a connection, if I trace them back, I see that often a cold submission was the seed. Once those seeds are planted, it’s up to us to nurture them, which is what a lot of RIPP posts have helped illuminate. I found it inspiring that Ms. Marion committed to this playwright, and that that commitment branched out into a number of opportunities. Next week’s final installment, with Geva Theatre Center’s Sean Daniels, is similarly inspiring. So don’t miss that one.
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