The Real World: Theater Edition: Tools for Today’s Playwright

Barbara Jwanouskos is bringing a more writer-focused bent to her column, and starts the transition with a link packed tool-box for today’s Fresh Off the Grad School playwright.

If you’re a playwright out there trying to write, make connections and get produced, there are a couple resources you should be aware of that might make it a bit easier for you. I’ve put together a mini guide to memberships you may want to consider and a couple sites online where you can read and participate in discussions involving theater.

The Dramatists Guild
Playwrights don’t have a union like screenwriters and TV writers do, but they do have the Dramatists Guild and when it comes to issues of legality, the Dramatists Guild is an excellent resource for playwrights, composers, and librettists. It has been around for over 80 years and has over 6,000 members nationwide. As a member, you receive a subscription to their publication, The Dramatist, as well as a guide to playwriting opportunities, and information about other meet-ups that are helpful to networking with other playwrights.

The best thing about the Guild is how they advocate for your rights as a playwright.

YOU: Wait, I have rights??
ME: Yes, you do.

Take a second to visit their site and you’ll find the Bill of Rights, which includes being compensated for your work as a playwright if the production charges admission and/or compensates others on the production team – EVEN IF IT IS VERY SMALL. You will also see that no one can change the words in a script you’ve written without your approval and other helpful rights. While these are not laws, they are modes of conduct that are fair and equitable and any good theater company will not only be aware of, but also abide by. As a member, you can also call (800-289-9366) the Guild if you are having legal problems with a production of your work and they will advise you on how to navigate the problem.

July 14-17th marks #RightsWeek, which is sponsored by the Dramatists Guild, Samuel French, and HowlRound, when theater makers will be having a series of online and offline conversations about one’s rights in the theater, specifically with regards to intellectual property. Follow the above listed sites and use the hashtag #newplay and #rightsweek for more information.

The Playwrights’ Center
The Playwrights Center is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota and is an excellent resource for playwrights of all experience levels. They offer several fellowships for emerging, mid-career and experienced playwrights that include fantastic benefits such as a respectably sized stipend to offset financial costs associated with devoting all of your time to playwriting, mentorships with more experienced playwrights for those emerging, and staged readings and productions of your work.

For members, they offer many discounts to bookstores, software, and theater publications (like American Theatre put out by TCG). They are an excellent resource for playwriting submission opportunities around the world. Their search functions and organization makes it easy to identify which ones you are interested in pursuing. They also offer classes to their members conducted by their group of Core Writers. Sadly, they are held in Minnesota, so you would need to take a trip out there if you’re coming from here.

The Playwrights Foundation
Not to be confused with the Playwrights Center above, the Playwrights Foundation is based in San Francisco. It offers a variety of classes for playwrights to brush up on their chops – a lot of them taught by local writers like Lauren Gunderson, Octavio Solis, and Eugenie Chan. I’ve taken several classes here and have always had a great time and broken through blocks I’d had in writing.

The Playwrights Foundation also hosts the Bay Area Playwrights Festival each summer that includes a selection of new plays, many of which go on to be produced by the Playwrights Foundation or other companies.

Theater Bay Area
I’ve only recently joined TBA, so am not as familiar with what resources are available and exciting to playwrights. But, from what I can see, you gain access to the Job and Talent Bank, which is an excellent resource (as Ashley mentioned the other day) for audition listings. I have also seen job postings and playwriting opportunities online when I’ve searched it after starting my membership. You get a subscription to the Theater Bay Area magazine and discounts on tickets around the Bay. They also support artists through small CA$H grants and have a Lemonade Fund to support artists who are terminally ill.

In addition to the above, these online discussion sites are great places to keep up with your theater news and issues:

HowlRound includes essays and editorials on theater making. Writers and artists of all kinds participate in ongoing discussions about the most prevalent topics in theater.

Bitter Lemons is a site devoted to LA’s theater scene, but also has some great essays that take up sometimes controversial stances on the practices of making theater.

2AMt is another great site for essays and views on theater.

Born Ready is a podcast hosted by Rob Ready and Raymond Hobbs where they make fun of the issues theater has.

What other resources (memberships, websites, podcasts, etc.) would you add? Let us know!

Barbara Jwanouskos is a playwright who recently moved back to the Bay Area having completed the MFA Dramatic Writing program at Carnegie Mellon University. You can follow her on twitter @bjwany.

Falling With Style: A Professional Actor Prepares

Helen Laroche gives her take on the age-old question: what the hell does ‘professional actor’ mean, anyway?

Since my last post, I’ve spent a lot of time writing a grant proposal for Theatre Bay Area’s TITAN award. No, that’s overstating it. I’ve been *thinking* about writing. Alright, in truth I’ve just plain been avoiding.

I’ve been avoiding this yucky fear that’s snaked it’s way through my heart and risen to the surface of my mind: that we are never, ever, ever getting back together I may never, ever, ever be a professional actor.

Now, the definition of “professional actor” is nebulous. Loyal readers of this blog have read Stuart’s stab at defining it in the comments section of a previous SF Theatre Pub article by Marissa Skudlarek (who makes her own good points). Melissa Hillman talked about her proposed definition recently on her blog.

In the past few weeks, I’ve learned a sneaky thing about my definition. My definition changes to encompass whatever I’m not currently pursuing.

Am I trying to choose projects that are fulfilling, whether or not they pay? Ah, a professional actor must be someone who focuses on paid work, and therefore I am not one.

Am I trying to choose projects based on their ability to sustain me financially? Well, a professional actor must be someone who doesn’t sell out, and therefore I am not one.

Am I choosing projects which will give me an opportunity to practice my new acting tools in a community theatre-type environment? Gee, a professional actor would never use a live stage as a training ground, and therefore I am not one.

In other words, I’ve been using the fact that there is no single definition to cut myself down at every turn. Why you gotta do me like that, self?

So, with that realization in mind, I’m seeking yet another definition. Like porn, I know a professional actor when I see one, but it’s hard to put my finger on. (That’s what she said.)

The people I consider professional actors do not leave me wondering whether they’ll get it right tonight. I see the care in the work that they do, but only because I am inspecting it closely, looking for the seams. I see the connection they have with their work. They’ve done their homework.

I’m reminded of a quote that a beloved college professor shared with us often: “An amateur practices until he gets it right; a professional practices until he can’t get it wrong.”

If that’s not my definition, it’s pretty damn close.

Helen is currently practicing for Sunday at the Bar with Steve, coming up on Sunday, March 24 at 7pm at Martuni’s. Learn more here.

Falling With Style: Growing Where I’m Planted; Or, What’s So Great About The Bay Area Theatre Scene?

Helen Laroche, aspiring actress, continues her exploration of pursuing her dream in the Bay Area.

A few weeks ago, I submitted my application for the ATLAS Fellowship provided by Theatre Bay Area. I did this in part because it would give weight to the career mapping I’ve already started on my own — and because it might give me the push I need to find a mentor. I desperately seek someone, probably but not necessarily a woman, who can show me by example that, yes, I can be an artist and raise a family, without asking them to live in cardboard boxes or Stockton with me.

As part of the ATLAS application, I was asked to consider why I perform in the Bay Area. The first answer that came to me was, embarrassingly, ‘because my family can’t move to New York.’

And so that pesky question came to the front of my mind again: can I find the artistic fulfillment I’m looking for while living in the Bay Area? It’s hard to answer, when I still can’t quantify the terms of fulfillment. But if I’m honest with myself, my artistic fulfillment includes: management, some form of steady income from theatre/film/writing/other media, and the ability to bring great, unheard stories to the people who need to hear them. And the people I work with should be just as passionate as I am.

I’m not getting any younger, and I can’t keep pulling my poor husband through the ringer every few months, starting up a new conversation about moving from Palo Alto to San Francisco or from the Bay Area to New York before re-evaluating and reneging. I need to come at this from a mature place and take stock of what the Bay Area film/theatre/etc. scene does as well as or better than anywhere else.

The list, as I see it so far:

  • improv comedy
  • physical comedy/clowning
  • pre-pre-Broadway works (e.g. the New Works Festival at Theatreworks; the Playwrights Foundation
  • a larger-than-average potential donor base, since there are plenty of people in the area with disposable income and a philanthropic bent

What am I missing? What defines the Bay Area arts scene for you? Is there any one thing?

On December 15th, you can see Helen in one of those pre-pre-Broadway New Works Festivals, The San Francisco Olympians Festival, playing the role of Artemis.