Theatre Dreams

I had a dream about theatre.

I knew it was a dream because someone (not me) was producing one of my plays, and the actors were actually excited about being in it. So excited they wanted to boot one cast member who wasn’t pulling her weight. The director wasn’t there, but he seemed – in that vague, dreamy way you just know something is true – eager about the project too. And I, I was actually not nervous. I was confident the staging would be great, and so grateful that everyone involved really wanted to be doing it.

That fantastic scenario popped into my REM-fueled brain the same morning I was going to Chicago Dramatists for one of their periodic discussions with local literary managers and artistic directors. Since the solo show and the beginning of the crisis, I have pulled back from Dramatist events, let my membership lapse in the face of the upcoming move, and generally begun to disengage from all things Chicago theatre. (Though we will still go to plays, and today we will be seeing the work of that brilliant new playwright, Mark Burns. It was my honor to buy him coffee before the program yesterday.)

But a funny thing happened at the discussion: I got a little excited about playwriting again. And considered the possibility that being in such a great theatre city is really the only way I can truly regain the spark (yes, this has ramifications for the move, or my future satisfaction with being back in CT, but that’s a whole ‘nother story…).

The panelists were Aaron Carter from Victory Gardens; Bonnie Metzgar from About Face; P.J. Paparelli from American Theater Company; and Vance Smith from Black Sheep Productions. VG is one of the heavy hitters in the city and known for producing new plays. The next two are more mid-level, while Black Sheep is fledgling, with just two productions under its belt. The four reps gave the low-down on what their theatres produce, how to submit,  and what they personally look for when scripts come in.

Moderator Russ Tutterow got the ball rolling with a sorta-non-theater question for Paparelli: Did Sarah Palin ever come to his old theatre? Paparelli recently came to Chicago from Juneau, where he ran Perseverance Theatre. He recounted his one experience with the governor, when she attended a production of Hamlet. Also there that night were high-school kids who took part in the theatre’s Young Shakespeare Training Company. After the show, the students asked their governor how she liked it. As Paparelli tells is, she said, “Very nice – but I’m not really very big on Shakespeare.” Now, he did not take that to mean she’s a cultural Neanderthal (though I’m sure a few people there thought it), since the Bard is not everyone’s cup of tea. But what is telling was her quick willingness to deflate these kids, who obviously love theatre and were now into Shakespeare, and probably pretty excited to meet their governor. She could have done the same kind of diplomatic lying I’m sure she’s now practicing on the campaign trail. But no…

One interesting theatrical anecdote came from Metzger, recounting a story from her days in New York theatre. A prominent director picked up a script, weighed it in his hands, and said it was too heavy – the playwright needed to cut 30 pages. That’s why playwrights love the business of getting their work produced.

The meat of the afternoon’s talk wouldn’t be too relevant to anyone not looking to submit to these theatres, and I assumed I was one of those people when the event began. But by the end, something was stirring; I still want to write plays, still want to get them produced, still want – at least once before I die, dear God – a professional production. I also, realized, though, that what I’ve written so far, and the new ideas I’ve been kicking around, are not apt to get staged at these theatres, and probably most theatres in the known universe. My stuff is too…safe? bland?…for theatres looking to stage, as Paparelli put it, “an event.” And it’s also too…unsafe, unbland…for the community theatres of the world, which I would settle for as producers of my work, despite higher aspirations. Of course, maybe it’s stupid to break it down to safe/unsafe/whatever. Maybe the nut is the stuff is just not good enough.

So, you won’t see my plays on the boards at these fine Chicago institutions. Maybe nowhere, outside my basement (wherever that happens to be once we’re settled…whatever that means). But I want to thank those four folks who spoke at Chicago Dramatists, and Mark, and all the other theatre people I’ve met here who have fueled my love of theatre as a whole, not just my attempts at playwriting. The urge is still there, even if the talent isn’t.

(Thanks too to Aaron for mentioning Scott Walter’s theatre blog. A quick glance showed some interesting stuff, though it seems tailored to folks at a much higher level of theatrical accomplishment than the likes of me. Still, good to see what the people who make a living at this are thinking and doing.)

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~ by mburgan on September 29, 2008.

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