13P

Easy to Revere, Tough to Recreate

Last November, playwright Eliza Bent had a reading of her play The Hotel Colors at the Bushwick Starr. She felt good about the reading. She felt good about the play. And afterward, when she talked to friends and colleagues, she found that their thoughts on the piece were aligned: it was good. Someone should produce it. Eliza found herself in a position familiar to many young writers. She had a play that she felt was ready for production, but the means to get it produced eluded her. She didn’t think major institutional theatres would be interested. She didn’t have the money to finance a production herself, nor did she know anyone who did. She left the Bushwick Starr discouraged, thwarted, frustrated by what she felt was a lack of opportunity to see her work realized in front of an audience. It was this same lack of opportunity that, ten years ago this summer, was eating at Rob Handel. Having finished another in a long line of workshops of his plays and with no productions on the horizon, he got to thinking that there must be a better way to address new work. Rob and Eliza came up with much the same solution to the problem. “The next morning, I woke up,” says Eliza, “and I sent an email to some friends saying, ‘Let’s think about making a new 13P.’”

This summer marked the ninth and final year in the life of 13P. Rob Handel’s frustrations had, in 2003, led to the formation of that collective of thirteen playwrights as an antidote to the cycle of perpetual development in which emerging writers often find their work trapped, 13P’s motto was, “We don’t develop plays. We do them.” And they did. One play by each of the company’s member playwrights. And then, in September of this year, 13P, in accordance with its mission, ceased to be.

The problem of leadership is one that dogs these writers’ collectives. The writer who provides the catalyst for the project rarely wants to lead the group moving forward. In part, that reticence speaks to how little free time many emerging writers feel they have.

Cast of Melancholy Play
The orignal cast of Melancholy Play by Sara Ruhl, the 
  last play of the 13P project. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Its “Implosion Party” at Joe’s Pub was packed to the rafters with adoring and appreciative fans. 13P made an indelible mark on the world of play development. But it made an even more vivid impression on the imaginations of a generation of writers. Here was a company that mounted high-quality productions of new plays, often plays with a bold theatrical sensibility. Here was a company where writers were free from the intrusion of institutional leadership—where, indeed, the writers were the institutional leadership. Here was a company whose membership included some of the hippest, hottest, most successful playwrights in the American theatre. Here was a company that people looked up to, whose work was taken seriously by serious people. To a wide demographic of writers, the experience 13P offered was the experience they wanted in the theatre.

Eliza found proof of that enthusiasm for the 13P model at the first meeting of her group. Expecting that the project would struggle to generate interest, she and a small core group of collaborators came up with a list of thirty-five potential members, ranging from promising undergraduates with no professional credits to established off-Broadway playwrights. They sent emails inviting those thirty-five to an informal brainstorming session. They hoped they would get enough interest to form a group of ten or fifteen. Thirty-one writers showed up. “What was essentially being offered,” says Eliza, “was: we’re starting a new 13P. The fact that so many people came to that meeting was both inspiring and totally debilitating. It proved how ill conceived the current system is. Thirty-one people are that anxious to be part of a group like that.”

That first meeting would prove to also be the group’s last. In the time since 13P’s implosion, several groups have arisen attempting to translate writers’ admiration of the 13P model into a functioning collective that can emulate 13P’s success. None has yet produced a piece of theatre. There is a sizeable distance between admiring 13P and recreating 13P, but that’s not stopping many writers from trying to do the latter. Don Nguyen is one of those writers for whom 13P holds a special allure. “What’s great about 13P,” says Don, “is that they grew out of a frustration with having to wait to get a show up. It’s great that they sparked such a desire in all these emerging playwrights to take action.” Don’s first flirtation with following in 13P’s footsteps came toward the end of his time as an inaugural member of the Public Theater’s Emerging Writers Group.

As that first year came to an end, members started discussing how they could continue to work together. Don reports, “A couple of them corralled together and said, ‘We want to do something like 13P.’  Because, at that time, they were getting to their last productions, and the big question was, ‘Who’s going to be the next 13P?’” Interest was strong among the EWG’s membership, but it fell to Don and a handful of other members to translate enthusiasm into action. His first hurdle: how to deal with the legacy of 13P? Embrace it and bill your group as a spiritual or even literal successor to the original? Distance yourself from the legacy of your obvious predecessor? Capitalize on their reputation? Flee from the heightened expectations they created? “We had a really good conversation with Maria Goyanes,“ Don says. “One big question we had was, ‘Would 13P be willing to officially relinquish their title to the next group?’  They said, ‘No,’ which makes sense. There are really great things about staying connected to 13P and building on top of their brand. But there’s something potentially damaging about that as well. As a playwright and a collective, you want to build your identity.”

Without direct financial support from any institution, Don and his cohort had to confront the fact that someone would need to find the money with which to produce work. Don had a huge respect for the art of fundraising, but little interest in its practice. By his own admission, “we didn’t know where we were going to get the money.” In fact, none of the EWG members were interested in taking on the fundraising challenge, nor really in assuming any leadership role. For that, they hoped to find a producer, someone to lead the work, to take charge of mounting productions, and to find the money to make it all happen. They began to interview prospective producers. “The entire time it was like trying to match them up with what Maria Goyanes was for 13P,” says Don. “We wanted to find the next Maria.”

They ultimately decided on Christie Evangelisto, who had previously worked with Scott Rudin Productions, Playwrights Horizons and the Studio Theatre in Washington, DC. But shortly after they concluded their search, Christie was tapped to join the literary staff at the Signature Theatre. And so, with no resources to continue and no strong leadership presence, the project faltered. “As playwrights, we’re all busy with other projects and stuff, “ says Don. “We never officially talked about it again. We just kind of let it die.” The problem of leadership is one that dogs these writers’ collectives. The writer who provides the catalyst for the project rarely wants to lead the group moving forward. In part, that reticence speaks to how little free time many emerging writers feel they have. There’s also the question of how well suited such a person is to successfully running a producing organization. Says Eliza Bent: “I was a pretty reluctant leader. I don’t have a ton of development experience, but I can send a great press release. I can galvanize people. But I don’t know how to raise $20,000.”

And, of course, a writer in such a collective wants to be part of the collective, not above the rest of the group managing the collective. Such was the struggle for playwright and dramaturg Annah Feinberg, when she started amassing her writers collective this summer. “I had a clear idea about where the group would go. But, frankly, I was going to be one of the writers and actively did not want to be in a leadership role.” Annah served as associate producer on 13P’s final production, Melancholy Play. “What I really like about 13P is that the buck stops with the writer,” says Annah. “Working with Sarah Ruhl on Melancholy Play, I realized, she had been used to not being aware of how many decisions were getting made without her. Having to make those decisions was a hugely eye opening experience and will make her a better writer and theatre practitioner in the future.” As the project neared a close, Annah talked to Sarah about the possibility of carrying on the 13P torch. Sarah was enthusiastic, but, as Don had discovered, 13P was unwilling to name an official successor. “The whole point is to not have an outside force bestowing power on you,” Annah says. “The members of 13P bestowing power on somebody else feels like they’re an institution saying ‘yes’ to somebody in the same way any institution says ‘yes’ to an artist.”

Still, Annah found the current 13P members excited and supportive. To her mind, a new company’s relationship with 13P had to be a balancing act. “There was a fine line to be walked in having their support while also distancing ourselves from them. It would have to be a certain distance away from 13P but clearly connected. The structure was so clearly similar that it would be impossible to get away with completely distancing.” She went about brainstorming about a new group. She considered the group’s organizational structure, its goals and, of course, its membership. “My thought was that there would be very little interaction between the writers except that they would be in a picture together on the website. So, I just picked ten writers that I really liked.” Her list included a range of emerging and established writers.

As with Eliza’s group, every writer that she asked expressed interest in the project: “It was literally ten for ten.” Annah’s group met only once. “It was a really great thing,” she said. “We had a bunch of conversations. We started talking about what we were trying to achieve. It was exciting. It worked. But one of the frustrations with that first meeting was that there was no clear sense of leadership. I’d half-heatedly try to step into that role, then catch myself. I don’t think the leadership has to be in the style of Maria Goyanes, but there has to be someone with whom the buck stops on larger things.”

Ultimately, though Annah recognized the necessity of having that leader, she was aware that she did not want to be that leader. “It would have been cool to follow through with it,” she says, “but I just knew it wasn’t going to happen. Everyone just had too much going on already.” Eliza Bent came to the same conclusion. “If a leader had emerged at that first meeting, it might have worked. I couldn’t have been the person in charge. I work a full-time job. I’m in graduate school. And I freelance as an actor and journalist. I knew I didn’t have the time for an undertaking like this.”

After the initial meeting, the group never met again, though Eliza occasionally hears from people who were at her meeting and are still thinking about starting similar groups elsewhere. For many writers, 13P offers an ideal worth striving for, a model for dealing with work far preferable to the prevailing one. So alluring is that ideal, that even writers with little interest in running a company will dive into the business of trying to replicate it. But achieving that ideal must involve institution building, fundraising, leadership. On those points, those who seek to recreate 13P’s success have to toil just as anyone who is starting a new company must. In the end, it is easier to admire 13P than it is to recreate 13P.

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It's wonderful to watch this conversation develop. David Dower makes a good point: I think the critical thing about the fundraising experience I brought to 13P wasn't that I had some magic dust in my pocket, but rather that it gave us all faith that this scheme might actually work.

I continue to believe that raising money isn't rocket science, so long as you aren't afraid to ask for money, you aren't weighted down with a sense of entitlement (or can hide it well), and you can clearly define why you rather than someone else should receive support. I put everything I know about raising money into the "How We Did It" section of "A People's History of 13P," which lives on at 13p.org for the benefit of anyone wanting to look under the hood of our model and see if anything there is of use to them. (It's there thanks to the urging and support of the Mellon Foundation.)

This post, and the conversation that has followed here, have got me thinking about the essential enzyme that makes a vision coalesce into something like a 13P, or a SITI, or a Steppenwolf, or a regional theater movement, or an NNPN. I haven't done a study of it (not yet, perhaps?) so these thoughts will largely be drawn from personal experience.

First, I want to interrogate the notion that 13P's secret ingredient was Rob's development job-- that if that hadn't been in their arsenal at the beginning they would have floundered and, consequently, if you don't have access to money you are toast. I would love Rob's take on that for the specific instance of 13P- was it truly the difference maker it seems like it might have been from the outside?- but I can tell you that we didn't have that particular tool to work with when we started the Z Collective in San Francisco. (We were ten people who produced a dozen plays together, site-specific productions, over five years.) I don't know that the Rude Mechanicals had it coming out of college in Austin.

I think what does resonate for me in the example of Rob's day job, is that he (and the group) understood what assets they DID start out with and he (they?) brought them fully into the equation from the beginning. With the Z's, our most significant asset starting out was that most of us worked in a great restaurant that supported our ambitions to make plays together. Not with money, no. But they were flexible with schedules, they allowed us to market directly to their customers, they even turned over the restaurant on a dark night to let us throw a fundraising party. (We didn't spend $1000 to mount that first play I don't think.)

We also had national parks in San Francisco, including at Baker Beach. We performed that first play on that beach. Because we couldn't afford a theater. A bunker at the beach solved the need for a set since we couldn't afford that either. One of us was friends with an artist who made mechanical objects and he made the remote control dog for us for free. One of us worked in an office and was able to copy our postcard onto card stock so we could hand them to Zuni's customers. One of us lived in a building with a woman from an arts center and we asked her for rehearsal space in the off hours. And one of us had dated a guy who wrote reviews for an alternative weekly paper in SF and made him come see us. And, and, and-- the list of things we could activate to make that first play is pretty eccentric but extensive.

So, for me, I'm guessing it is less about the fact that it was development experience he had, and more about the fact that the group made use of what they had at the outset and kept building on that. They also had, for instance, a lot of relationships in their local theater community and some access to the press. Are those pre-requisites? I don't think so. But working with what you've got, rather than waiting to have what "they" have or until you have a model that looks like other companies, is I think a key difference between doing the thing and wanting to do the thing. We solved each problem as it came up-- entirely through taking stock of our access to things which could help-- rather than starting from a plan or from a budget.

Second, I am thinking we may underestimate the importance of having one person in the mix who is just not daunted by the challenges of doing the thing and is totally unwilling to sit with the "wanting". I am one of those people who would rather do it and fall on my ass than want it to be done. And I've frequently said to people "just do it!" But I am coming to understand that this thing that I have as a central part of my identity is not something that is innate in everyone and to expect that it is is both follly and unfair.

A quick story that some of you may be able to relate to. Our second year into it as the Z's, we did an organizational mediation because we were struggling to figure out how to work together and how to have a common set of goals around the company. (We'd not intended to be a company in the beginning. I just wanted to direct a play and my friends said they'd be in it.) One of the exercises the mediator gave us was to write down a list of our top three priorities in life, in order. I put mine in this order: 1) The Z Collective 2) My family 3) something else that I don't now remember because the first two were the things that blew all of us away. I was the only one who had the company in the top two priorities. And I had it placed AHEAD OF MY FAMILY-- my wife and my three-year-old son! When I saw that nobody else had the company in their top two- and several didn't have it in their top three- I was furious. "Look what I'm risking here and you guys don't even care!" Their response was to be even more furious with me. "Look at the pressure you are putting on us. You've prioritized us making plays together over your own family! We can't possibly live up to that."

I will love them each forever for that. I am still married and my son is thriving in his adult life. The Z Collective retired in 1992 and became the Z Space, which also carries on.

As a company, the Z's needed both things. And we needed them from each other. We needed some of us who were committed to the doing, instead of the wanting, above most else in our lives. And we needed some who were committed to a quality of life that balanced the rest of us. This was an ever present tension, and that push and pull was our fuel. After five years and twelve productions, all ten of us had prioritized "quality of life" stuff over the company and we retired. As with 13P, we retired the organization rather than hand it off. We had accomplished everything we wanted to do together and we all wanted, now, to do other things. We created the Z Space to dedicate our assets to the rest of the theater community and to this day the place is fueled by the tensions between doing the thing and "quality of life" balance.

With the original Z's, we were forever talking about how to share the load equally. And we never did that. What I think about that now is that we probably all shared the load TO THE BEST OF OUR ABILITIES-- nobody willfully rode anyone else's coattails. But some of us were more driven to "do" as a way of keeping ourselves engaged and staving off "wanting". And we discovered how to do what was necessary as we confronted each barrier. Others were perplexed about how to do that themselves-- it wasn't innate for them. They compensated by doing what was asked and by only taking responsibility for things they could deliver on and by supporting the efforts of the subset that was manic about doing.

And the difference, I think, between having a good idea and having a company in motion is having that core of manic energy around doing. You can't fake it. You can't hire it in. You have to have some energy in the group that risks losing perspective, losing balance, because to not do the thing is simply impossible. Maria Goyanes was clearly a catalyst to 13P's success, but I'll wager she wasn't that energy first. The "impossible not to" energy was very probably present in the core at the outset or it wouldn't have lasted until she emerged, nor would she have been drawn to it to emerge in it. (I'm speaking for people here who can speak for themselves, and speaking of things I have no knowledge of, so THESE ARE GUESSES based on my experience with a different set of circumstances.)

Third, I am struck by this question of leadership and who takes it in a group. My experience leads me to think there needs to be an energy in the center of a start-up that receives a joy in the success of the whole endeavor There needs to be an energy in the center of a start-up that receives joy in the success of the whole endeavor equal to the joy of individual success. Someone has to truly, and openly, value the creative act of making the environment, resources, and circumstances for the success of the whole idea and take their pleasures, energies, and rewards from THAT. It can't be faked-- those people become martyrs and make everyone (including themselves) miserable around them. It can't be hired from the outside at the beginning-- those people become nags and resented by the people who have hired them to create their success. I was lucky that the circle of Z's included some of us for whom this idea of the whole was true, and others for whom it was mysterious but who were willing to let us charge ahead for the good of the whole even as they could only see it through the lens of their personal development. We aren't all cut from the same cloth-- how dull would that be? And the diversity of relationship to "doing" and "wanting" is, I think, important. But so is the capacity of a group to both contain and allow for leadership that prioritizes the whole idea over their own.

And last in this comment, is a response to the notion of doing things for free. As I reflect back on the early days of the Z Collective and on the ideas in this conversation I realize a key ingredient to doing rather than wanting for all of us was being very clear on the exchange. It is not simply a question of getting people to do things for free for you. It is about what transpires for you and for them in the process of the doing together. This is something that lives more in the realm of a gift economy and functions by its same rules. For each person we got a favor from, we also accepted a debt. I had the extraordinary opportunity, at the very beginning of the Z's days, to receive several different gifts from people in my life. The owners of Zuni made space for us to pursue our creative lives. Later an incredible gift from the owner of a computer consulting firm: Michael Palladino hired many of us into flexible day jobs with his firm, and he rented an office big enough for us to have a rehearsal space (which became The Z Space...) A local AD and a local ED took me under their wings for periods to help me grow my management and producer's skills. A local designer volunteered for us on almost every production. And, in taking those gifts, I personally accepted the responsibility to, in Lewis Hyde's words, "suffer the labor of gratitude" in response. And so I have always looked for, and will always look for, ways to make space, to help people thrive in their creative lives, to make my skills available to others as I can, to volunteer where I am needed and valued in terms that are other than market transactions. All of us in the Z Collective took many gifts from many people to keep that company "doing". Part of suffering the labor of gratitude was to deliver, as a result, the best possible production we could each time out. But the other part of it was to commit ourselves to making a world that functioned on such gifts and to adding our own to the community of assets from which others my draw to "do". So, I never thought about it as working "for free" and I still don't. I owed every person who labored on our behalf and what I owed was to labor on behalf of others.

David, thank you for this. I think we have focused so much on the development/producing side of 13P that we've forgotten to look at all areas. Most importantly, we should revisit the 13P website and take a look at the awesome documentary they created. Watching it reminds me that more than ANYTHING else, 13P had a very clear vision of what they wanted to do. We tend to forget this. They had a specific objective in place and their efforts were always in service to that objective.

My takeaway is that 13P wanted to create very visible high quality productions with a very modest budget, and allow each playwright to guide the process of getting their play produced in the most satisfying expression of the playwright's vision. So how they procured and distributed money and resouces was in a manner that served those objectives.

But first more important than money, they had a VISION and they put thought and energy into exactly what they wanted to do and HOW they wanted to do it.

Of course their objective is likely to be the objective of most emerging artists and companies, "create very visible high quality productions with a very modest budget....." but the devil is in the details - and the particulars. 13P's particuars might be different than yours. So what the 'final reveal' of that objective looked like for them might be different for you. And can be very different in theater communities outside NYC. For instance, hiring a publicist was very important for 13P to get real attention in NYC. But that would not be necessary here in Dallas.

And it does seem that the 13P success narrative continues to get hung up on Rob's fundraising ability of Maria's producing talents, but again we have to look at the particulars.

Looking at the particulars (or one set of particulars) - they were a group of playwrights at a place in their careers that called for a larger committment to be made to their plays. Between them, they had countless awards, fellowships, grants, write-ups, readings and workshops at some prestigious places. And they each had friends, supporters, and proud mentors eager to see this happen as well - and willing to chip in various forms of support to make this a reality.

And because these were artists already on the radar of the mid-size and larger institutions they needed their work seen and experienced in a very specific way. So this determined the level of production they were after. They needed their work to be seen in a larger scope - fully realized . Granted, all playwrights need this - but the 13P's had the combined experience and professional recognition to help make this happen. And they knew that, and used it as part of their marketing and development push.

This is not to suggest that 13P was about finding a way to break into the larger institutions or 'climb the ladder'. I don't believe it was about that. I believe it was about letting the art live the way it was meant to live - and showing the strenght of many different voices and visions.

I say all this to circle back to David's story of how Z Space was founded, which demonstrates that for a new model to be successful it must respond to your present moment of opportunity and challenge. It must respond to YOUR particulars.

Dear Alex,

I am the General Manager for 13P, and a lighting designer. I've done a lot of thinking on this very topic. I wonder if there is an element that you are overlooking or that these groups have been slightly naive about. When 13P began part of why they were able to find capital was that Rob Handel worked in development. He used his day job skills to develop the company, and did so through to the end.

When Rob met Maria it wasn't about finding the company's MARIA GOYANES, but that he met a young person interested in producing and he needed some help. That was 8 years ago. She turns out to be an amazingly talented and exciting individual, but at the beginning of the company things were a little more loosey goosey because no one really had done what they were doing. As Maria's relationship with the company developed she took on a deeper role with the company and then brought in many individuals to help her make it happen. These things grow organically.

I think the root of what I am saying is, part of what made 13P work is that there were playwrights who wanted to take part, but didn't want the leadership role of the overall organization. If everyone wants to be in charge nothing gets done, but as you have astutely pointed out, if no one wants to be in charge nothing gets done.

Everyone has friends in the theater community who have different skill sets and different kinds of jobs. Ultimately regardless of job/skill most of us are members of our theater communities with similar goals. So to playwrights I say find your friends in other parts of the theater community; cross pollinate. You would be surprised at what people will do for cheap or free for the love of something or an idea. I have been non-stop surprised at the amount of generosity and time people constantly gave to 13P knowing that it was an opportunity for something different whether that is developing/changing how plays are being produced in our community, or personal professional growth.

Much love to the theater community.

~Barbara

Dear Alex,

I am the General Manager for 13P, and a lighting designer. I've done a lot of thinking on this very topic. I wonder if there is an element that you are overlooking or that these groups have been slightly naive about. When 13P began part of why they were able to find capital was that Rob Handel worked in development. He used his day job skills to develop the company, and did so through to the end.

When Rob met Maria it wasn't about finding the company's MARIA GOYANES, but that he met a young person interested in producing and he needed some help. That was 8 years ago. She turns out to be an amazingly talented and exciting individual, but at the beginning of the company things were a little more loosey goosey because no one really had done what they were doing. As Maria's relationship with the company developed she took on a deeper role with the company and then brought in many individuals to help her make it happen. These things grow organically.

I think the root of what I am saying is, part of what made 13P work is that there were playwrights who wanted to take part, but didn't want the leadership role of the overall organization. If everyone wants to be in charge nothing gets done, but as you have astutely pointed out, if no one wants to be in charge nothing gets done.

Everyone has friends in the theater community who have different skill sets and different kinds of jobs. Ultimately regardless of job/skill most of us are members of our theater communities with similar goals. So to playwrights I say find your friends in other parts of the theater community; cross pollinate. You would be surprised at what people will do for cheap or free for the love of something or an idea. I have been non-stop surprised at the amount of generosity and time people constantly gave to 13P knowing that it was an opportunity for something different whether that is developing/changing how plays are being produced in our community, or personal professional growth.

Much love to the theater community.

~Barbara

Really interesting piece Alex and fascinating responses. So true that there are (almost) as many models for producing great theatre as there are plays in the world... and it's often helpful to strategize and develop not just a company-specific fundraising and production model, but a play-specific model. Leave no stone unturned as they say.

I founded a company called Colt Coeur 3 years ago with a bunch of friends who happen to be the most talented actors, writers and designers I've ever worked with. We aren't 22 anymore and we aren't independently wealthy so we can't work for free-- so we knew we had to raise some money. And while fundraising sucks FOR EVERYONE, the commitment to helping fundraise isn't so awful when you are getting to work on your passion projects within the company and on productions and workshops everyone involved gets paid (at least a tiny bit) for their work. We've also found that most people we reach out to/strangers are willing to throw $25 or $50 at artistic work they're excited about especially if they feel like they can see how far that money is going-- making NEW plays, producing full productions of those plays, etc. Platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have made creating original fundraising campaigns feasible for everyone.

Michael Maso at the Huntington once said something like 'thank you for being a patron of the arts' to a rehearsal room of artists on the first day and elaborated that he sees people who WORK in the arts, and who buy tickets to and support other artists' work as patrons. I agree with this mentality. I don't think we should have to work for free too. It's just not sustainable. And it doesn't yield diverse work. I don't want all the artwork that is generated to come from rich people. That seems like a nightmare.

In terms of playwrights mounting work specifically, 13P is extraordinary and I wholeheartedly support the recognition given to the tireless Maria Goyanes, who was the producer thread connecting all 13 productions (I think). I also think the decision to hold off on trying to replicate this model without a natural and comfortable lead producer/artistic director is wise.

Playwrights-- there are many many theater companies comprised of actors and directors who are always looking for new playwrights to bring into their fold to develop enduring and mutually-rewarding collaborative relationships with... if you don't want to fundraise and produce, get involved with the companies that already exist that you are excited about.

Great piece. I would echo the fact that Rob's day job was as a development director, and that ecperience can not be understimated. Having experience in the funding world is huge.

The other successful 13p inspired model I'm aware of is Workhaus in Minneapolis, but there too some of the members has experience running theater companies. Plus they had significant in kind support from the playwrights center.

I think there's also a good argument that 13p was the right model for those people at that time and place. There's much more activity in the new play sector than there was 10 years ago. The tough question is what the best model is for this moment.

Dear Alex,

What a fine piece of journalism! As someone who usually conducts interviews and writes articles, it's strange to be on the other side of the equation... but also a nice change of pace.

Something your article doesn't mention, but that I wanted to be sure gets noted, is that my play, THE HOTEL COLORS, will receive a production at the Bushwick Starr May 7-25 this year. Huzzah!

I am thrilled for this happy turn in events (and certainly didn't expect something like this to happen when I drummed up the 31millionP meeting last year.) It will be a challenge to self produce, but I'm extremely grateful to the folks at the Bushwick Starr for all the resources that they will be providing (namely rehearsal space, marketing and PR). I also have a great team of producer/production managers helping me make things happen.

While I think Derek's model is an interesting one, I'd be reluctant to ask artists to fork over their own money/throw in a little cash toward production. With Half Straddle, a company I helped found in 2008, I am always very happy to promote our various fundraising campaigns and deeply thankful to receive a stipend toward work I am so proud and lucky to be a part of.

One the other side, I'm also very happy that I don't have to throw in any of my own cold hard cash. That'd stink. But that's just me. And it's nice to think that there are as many producing models as there are kinds of theatre.

Ciao for now!

Eliza

There's no question it's tough to duplicate any successful theatre company because there are so many moving parts that make each work and the parts aren't necessarily interchangeable. I think on the issue of 13P as a model, it's worth going back to Rob Handel's original HowlRound post (13P: Why Implode? 10/8/12). Rob was driven to do this -- it takes an entrepreneurial personality to make any startup work -- and perhaps most importantly, he'd been working in fund raising for Mark Morris dance company, a significant player in the NYC-based dance world. So he had contacts, he'd raised money in NYC -- though not directly from folks who would readily support a playwrights' theatre -- and he knew the initial seed funding would need to come from the 13 playwrights and their friends/families. And though he doesn't say this, I suspect he was angry enough about being caught on that development treadmill that he was willing to sacrifice some (maybe a lot) of his writing time to the management of 13P.

Four years ago eight playwrights in Portland, Oregon created a group called Playwrights West (www.playwrightswest.org) modeled on groups like 13P. All new work, all world premieres, all local writers. We have produced one member play and are producing the next play in Aug. 2013. We have added and changed members, we have gotten great advice from 13P, we have talked to arts administrators, we have created our own model which fits our own city and needs of our playwrights, (which are similar to all playwrights' needs--a production damn it!). It has been impossibly hard and often frustrating, but we are doing it. We are now a 501 C3, we have grants in the pipeline. It took us two years of meetings every other week to get to our first production. But it can be done. Find your tribe, assess your needs, be persistent, be punchy, use your own human resources wisely and it can be done. Thank you 13P for paving the way!
Andrea Stolowitz, founding member, playwrights west

I created a company a few years ago called the amoralists in which i was the only writer but i surrounded myself with hungry actors and designers. We started it with three of us (I would write and direct all the plays and the other 2 guys would act in them) and watched it grow to over 50 ensemble members in 6 years. Each member serves a different purpose and is kept happy with constant work. I think for any new theatre company to be successful you need to have 1. People who are good at different things 2. People who are desperate to create. 3. People who will work for free. You can do a hell of a production for 15,000 if no one but the theatre landlord gets paid. So you get 15 people together and each throws in 1000 bucks to do their own thing... (The writer throws in a thousand, the lighting designer, the actors etc...) From there you work your ass off to get audience in the theatre and you parlay that box office into the next show. So the initial 15 k operates as a one time start up payment hopefully. It's not as difficult as a lot of people make it out to be. Write a play, get a bunch of hungry actors to be in it, get a bunch of hungry designers to design it, everyone throw it a little bit of cash and then rent a theatre and hire a publicist. I hope that doesnt sound cavalier but I've found that (at least as it pertains to my company) it takes more balls (or audacity) than organization and fundraising to really succeed at theatre making.

Really interesting article, but I have to say that I'm not sure why anybody would try to "emulate" 13P's model to begin with. I'm completely obsessed with 13P, but I don't think that it's ever wise to engage in an artistic endeavor with the intent to emulate another group's way of working, no matter how effective or impressive it may have been.

It's absolutely okay to be inspired by 13P, hell, I'm inspired by them every day. But shouldn't we take that inspiration and use it to forge a new path forward, our own way forward? We can find ways to self produce, we can work to rid ourselves of our desperate clinging to the hope of sustainability in the long term in favor of just making art right now - but we can never truly replicate the circumstances that allowed for 13P to prosper. Instead, we should all be searching for our own 13p - not our own group of playwrights with the exact same organizational philosophy - but a group of artists with whom we can collaborative and with whom we can imagine new organizational models just as Rob Handel did a decade ago.

I've always found it interesting that actors and directors seem to have fewer problems or issues with coming together to start companies - essentially self-producing. But playwrights seem to struggle with this. I've always wondered why? And I don't mean 'why' in a critical or finger pointing way. But 'why' in a very curious way. Why does self producing appear to be a more onerous task for playwrights and not for actors or directors. Even for a group of playwrights going in together. And by self-producing I don't just mean one-off productions, but creating companies and collectives as well. Personally, I'm not a big advocate of self-producing, but only because the majority of playwright-driven models I've seen have not been successful. Most often the plays suffered from neglect, both creative and production-wise.

Wondering if it's because the nature of being a playwright is that you tend to work in a solitary fashion. With actors, directors and even designers, there's a natural instinct to want to work collaboratively - you are absolutely dependent upon one another to bring the play to life. So might go a theater collective.

@ Jonathan, I think your point is very well taken. Another thing that I wanted to point out was that several times in the conversations mentioned, individuals wanted to not be involved with the handling of the group. I think that if you are going to be grassroots, then it should be understood that has to be a grassroots effort, meaning everyone has to help make the cake in order to eat it. You can't just be a just playwright, or an actor, or a director. You have to be a theatre maker. Which means you share the responsibility of fundraising, writing the budgets, marketing, help with the producing, etc...and you have to want to do it. That is why so many of these start-ups fail in my opinion, because they lack this mentality and think the answer is to hire someone from outside of the collective to do the work that is seen as not "artistic" instead of having the impassioned, internal voices working as advocates for the group.

How do we develop the leadership that will take the vision from idea to reality?

13P succeeded because it tapped directly into the enthusiasm of young and ambitions theater-makers. The playwrights did NOT keep the vehicle moving, they simply directed the aesthetic while in motion. Rob Handel magically, and beautifully, navigated and propelled the financial responsibilities as the core Development leader. Money was crucial. But, the core of leadership and 'institutional' momentum came from the eager, young and inexperienced learning peoples, all inspired by the WORK. I willing volunteered my time to the 13P effort because someone asked me to. Inspired and blinded by the collective talents of the group and the sincerity of the mission, I agreed. Maria started this way, and then smartly persuaded others on to the team in order to maintain the energy after she became divided with responsibilities at the Public.

There are many brazen folk anxious to MAKE, especially in NYC. The catch is inspiring them to do so with little or no financial payback. With 13P, association with the work and more importantly, the people MAKING, became the payback.