THE STATE OF THE ART OF PLAY CREATION
by Ken Wolf, Artistic Director, Manhattan Repertory Theatre
Did you ever have one of those moments where all of a sudden everything makes sense? Where your perception literally shifts and you can see things as they really are and as they are intended to be?
Since moving to our new theatre in October 2016, things have changed at Manhattan Repertory Theatre. What we are doing is all of a sudden more important, more vital, and so much more meaningful, on a personal and on a global level. But I didn't get it until today while biking with my partner and love of my life, Jen, along the Hudson River Bike path. Gazing out at the gray brown water, with the sun setting in the west over Hoboken, I got it. I had my "Play Creation" Epiphany.
Manhattan Rep is on the front line of a new frontier for playwrights and serious play creators. The days of the old school model of sending out a play manuscript, and waiting 9 months to a year to see if a theatre will even get back to you and agree to produce it, are over. Those days are over. Fewer theatres even accept unsolicited scripts, and many of the ones that do, have a clear vision of what their theatre wants to produce, not YOUR VISION of what you want to produce.
"Please please please accept my play so it can be brought to life and then I can feel good about myself!"
THOSE DAYS ARE OVER, if you want them to be.
Filmmakers raise funds to self-produce their movies. Authors write digital books and self-publish them on the Kindle platform. Now, finally, more and more playwrights are getting it too, and self-producing their plays. Bringing their work to life without the approval of a theatre company or a literary agent. Bringing their work to life for they have balls and they believe in their friggin' work!
And that's the way it should be. That's the way we get to see personal stories that are different, or challenging to the old ways of thinking. That is the way, your perspective is clear. There is no moderator. No council on what is good art and what is bad art overseeing your creation. Just your vision and your passion manifested on stage.
That's the way to be responsible for making your dreams come true. By taking action. Personal, passionate action to bring your plays to life.
Since we opened in our old space on 42nd and 8th Ave in 2005, we have always been a production house. A place that offered playwrights opportunities to self produce their plays in a context/wrapping that we created, making it easier and more fun to self produce.
And I, with my partner Jen, self-produced my plays, plays that pushed the artform, like my one man one dog show Dad and the Dog. Plays that pushed the limits of comedy, like MEN, THE MATCH GAME, THE EYES OF LOVE. And plays that told incredibly true scary raw stories like my one man show THE PEOPLE IN MY HIPS, the true story of how I developed severe PTSD from training in YOGA and how I cured myself 100% of my affliction in three years. Plays not to MAKE money, but plays to challenge the confines of what one can do in theatre, plays to push limits and the context of comedy, and plays that offered raw scary unadulterated truth. Truth like one has never seen on stage.
Last March, we created our Play Production program where for a production fee from a Passionate playwright we would produce her play from soup to nuts at Manhattan Rep.
And the work has been unfriggin' believable. From Le Cygne by Ivan Filippov written and produced from Moscow Russia, to The Bigot by Gabi Mor and Eva Mor, that since our production has been booked in 5 different theatres for production in 2018, to The Living Room by Charlie Finesilver, the Civil War play that made an incredibly strong statement about race and our perceptions and generalities about the past presented while all that Confederate madness was in the news, to Past Perfect by Rita Lewis, which now after it's October 2017 run, is being presented as a benefit for a number of important LGBT charitable organizations because the play resounds, and the play is so important to perpetuate the freedom to love who you love in this label ridden age of Trump. Other incredible playwrights like Fred Bruggemen who had the BALLS to bring his cutting edge full length plays to life here: War in a Golf Cart and Waiting for A Job. The awesome Michael Zielinsky brought his edgy Catholic based comedies, The Catholic Chronicles and his wacky Christmas Rom Com The Accidental Christmas Romance to life, and Andy Mayo, brought to life his historical drama set in Germany in 1933 as Hitler rose to power, Confess and Conspire.
And then, there's Resident playwright Richard Thomas Henle who has the incredible, insatiable passion and commitment to bring more than 50 of his plays to life since 2009! Over 50 plays!! Self-Produced! F-ing Awesome!
All these playwrights had a passion to see their plays come to life, and together as a team, as a community, we made it happen.
And since March 2017, we have produced over 35 plays from playwrights taking responsibility for bringing their plays to life as part of our Play Production program.
But when you break an old antiquated model, haters will arise from the bowels of the internet and Facebook. Individuals and playwriting businesses who make their money offering support and motivation for playwrights waiting for a job sitting sadly alone staring at their computer screens in a catatonic frozen state. And the reason they hate empowered Self Production is because they are too frightened to take responsibility for their own art, or, for the businesses, they are frighten this new thought form of personal responsibility will put their playwriting businesses out of business. So they hate, and they passionately attack any empowering new idea, and by doing so, they all feel better about themselves.... for about 30 seconds. (Don't you just love the internet?)
The old way of HOPING someone will "like" your written word, is stupid, and a waste of life. It's like buying Win for Life scratch off tickets, and honestly thinking you might Win for Life. It is a waste of FRIGGIN' TIME on this planet to wait for "approval" to have your play brought to life. All play creators on this planet need to take control of their art and destiny especially in this AGE OF TRUMP, where endowments for the Arts are being cut, slashed, and hacked. Where most theatres are frightened by work that might offend the government or the general public, and where their primary focus is simply making a buck, not making a difference!
So I had an Epiphany.
"A usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something."
At Manhattan Rep, we bring plays to life for passionate enlightened playwrights, and we help passionate enlightened playwrights and producers bring plays to life! We are at the forefront of a super important paradigme shift in the playwriting global belief system.
A shift from learned helplessness to Personal Friggin' Power!
As a playwright and artist, bringing your play to life is the most important thing you can do in this lifetime. So bring it on now!
And we here at Manhattan Rep, the playwrights who have joined the self-production band wagon, the awesome actors who helped bring the plays here to life, and the directors who passionately guided the process, are just beginning. This is the tip of the iceberg of the passion and the unbounded CREATIVITY to come! Creativity that connects people, that creates community in a time when we need community more than ever. Creativity that makes people think, and reevaluate their beliefs in a time when people are thinking all crazy! And creativity, that creates new forms, new perception, new ways of connecting one another heart to heart through personal stories!
So if you are confused or scared as a playwright (or even if you are a creator of any kind,) take a bike ride along the Hudson River as the sun sets over Hoboken and get clear. Get clear on what you want as a creator. Get clear on how as an artist you can make a difference in this world.
And then, take the bold, crazy, super fun, life-affirming and sometimes scary choice, to bring your ART to life!