The Here & Now Project
And just like that, it’s done. After three months and twelve plays covering a wide swath of topics in diverse styles across four states, The Here & Now Project for the summer of 2012 has reached its conclusion. From a distressed Ohio couple pinning their hopes on a casino in Eric Pfeffinger’s Deal, through a true Florida character’s dreams of a better wheelchair in Rob Winn Anderson’s Chair-ity, and the dreaded/celebrated arrival of a massive chain store in Hawaii in Kay Poiro’s Prime Target, and finally onto the impact of immigration policy on the daily reality of Arizonians in Tiffany Antone’s Following the Rules, these four playwrights have taken us where they are and shown us what’s happening there now with humor, heart, and intelligence.
And though this phase of the series is over, that’s not the end for these twelve plays! All the plays featured here this summer will be published shortly as a collection on Indie Theatre Now, readily available to be read, discussed, and performed. If you are a theater company, college, or community group looking to do something up-to-the-minute in time for this year’s election, I strongly suggest you take a look at doing a reading/production of these fantastic short plays.
When this project started, the idea was to try to provide a platform for discussion of current issues across an increasingly polarized America in theatrical form. Over the course of the summer, each of the playwrights took advantage of this—using their playwrights’ eyes and hearts to humanize and complicate issues completely specific to where they were. Their work invariably resonated with national significance—economic inequality, urban decay, women’s rights, mistrust of the media, faith/lack of faith in America itself, among others. While the plays were local in subject matter, the issues they dealt with were ones that I could certainly relate to as a Brooklynite, and I’m sure many of our readers could as well. This is not to say that because these “larger” issues are present in these works that somehow that makes these works “greater.” Rather it is to show that work with a niche focus—in this case, a geographical one—has the ability to resonate loudly across the borders of that focus and reveal something essential about us and the times in which we live. This also demonstrates further the absurdity of lack of these voices and stories on our stages.
Their work invariably resonated with national significance—economic inequality, urban decay, women’s rights, mistrust of the media, faith/lack of faith in America itself, among others.
As a final assignment to the playwrights, I asked them to share their reactions to being a part of this project—what they learned or what was reaffirmed for them, and what they would take away from it all. This assignment resulted in each of the playwrights finding their own platform for discussion within their communities. The assignment to write works that dramatize what’s right in front of them resulted, in one way or another, in a new kind of civic engagement for everyone involved.
What The Here & Now Project has demonstrated, for me as a playwright, is that what you’re looking for can be no farther than what’s right in front of you—not just in terms of subject matter for a play, but in terms of the very reason for writing for the theater itself. If the act of writing a play is one of civic engagement, if it’s using drama to provoke discussion and create dialogue about your community, for your community, in your community, by this very fact you are creating a work that has value—and that value exists inside your community and outside of it. This work deserves to be heard, here and now.
My thanks to the playwrights, and the good folks at HowlRound for hosting this series, and, with any luck, we’ll return again next summer!
The Here & Now Project has been a really rewarding summer project. Not only did it present me with steady deadlines—man, I love deadlines!—but it also encouraged me to write about local issues. I spend a lot of time mulling over hometown policies, events, and ideologies, but I hadn’t really written anything about Prescott before. Looking through the Arizona lens as a writer, rather than a general observer, allowed me to think about the issues on a wider level than I generally do when reading the paper/turning on the news.
Additionally, more than a few really good conversations got started between Prescott locals and myself—and isn’t that what we always hope will happen when we write? We create art in order to foster discussion on the human experience, to encourage a dialogue with/and/among our audience. Writing about Prescott has helped me connect with my community, and that is super cool!
Like most art, theater broadens its audience’s perspective by offering a vicarious experience. At the same time, theater is an uncommonly localized phenomenon, taking place at one irreproducible moment on one particular chunk of real estate and communicating only with whomever is within hearing. At its best, theater delivers stories from one parcel of the globe to another with unique directness and immediacy. At its blandest, it tells stories about the same old people having the same old problems in the same old zip code. I valued this opportunity because it offered a reminder to exploit the raw material of my milieu, a reminder that if there aren’t very many plays about this part of the country, that is emphatically not a reason to write plays about other parts of the country—also because it was a chance to write about casinos, feral dogs, and porn. Mostly that last thing, really—the casinos, dogs, and porn thing.
I’ve lived in Hawaii—different coasts, same island—for a total of four and half years. Participating in the Here & Now series forced me to take a closer and more honest look at what I’ve been taking for granted. It’s a gorgeous place, but from the outset, I didn’t set out to paint the usual idyllic picture. Instead, I shared my truth—that Hawaii is a state just like any other. That forced me to dig deeper. My usual approach to writing has always been “stick to the surface”—select choice bits and mine those for comedy gold. I found myself abandoning “set-up/punchline” storytelling and looking square in the face of some very real societal issues. I have newfound respect for playwrights who continually face these down.
You find enlightenment in the most unexpected ways sometimes. And I truly found it as a participant of the Here & Now Project. As a playwright, I tend to look outside of my “here” for inspiration. Stepping back and viewing my community through a different lens has allowed me to appreciate the smaller details of the world that surrounds me. And I think that will make me more adept at exploring every subject I choose to explore. I was not unlike many people who have a specific idea of what Orlando is and what happens here. I now know that the outlands that surround the Kingdom are infinitely more interesting and entertaining than what happens within those walls. Thank you, Here & Now, for allowing me to hone my skills with a different set of tools.