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A HowlRound Thanksgiving Retrospective Roundup

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The HowlRound journal launched in January 2011 with an interview of Maria Striar by playwright Andy Bragen. Almost a year and a hundred posts later, 42,000 unique readers from 98 countries have visited the site, and we are taking this moment to look back as a way of looking forward. Thank you to our contributors and readers; thank you for your feedback, comments, complaints, rants, and raves. We appreciate your attention and your participation in the conversation. In the coming months, look for the launch of a new and improved that has been expanded to include a blog and space for knowledge commons projects—emphasizing a cultural shift from “me” to “we” and the importance of sharing resources and ideas.

A HowlRound Thanksgiving Retrospective Roundup
I feel compelled to produce plays that are often by women, or feature women in meatier, more complex roles … in part because I regularly experience the lack of this material, of this point of view. And that’s a grievous lack, and something from which the world is truly impoverished by. The material that addresses this lack is often the most interesting. It’s less well-trod terrain, it’s so often surprising, and the less-familiar voices often come in less-familiar forms, which is exciting.—Maria Striar

The fierce color and Van Gogh’s frightening sense of the intensity of the world jives with my own drive to find something more real than what seems achievable at the surface. For better or for worse, this is why I’ve chosen a life in the theater—to live more deeply—to indulge my own romanticism.—P. Carl, Confessions, Contradictions, Beauty

the grass roots and the big institutions—have been a crucial part of my past as a playwright, and both are essential if I am to lead a healthy and productive life as a playwright into the future.—Lisa D’Amour, The Bounty of Big Institutions and the Glory of Grass Roots

If we’re really thinking about the work then there are a lot of great things happening and really interesting things happening that are informed by our society becoming…less able to stay in our own silos anymore, particularly in larger urban communities. We’re bumping up against each other and able to interact with each other, and I think that’s reflected in the work we’re starting to see.—Neil Barclay

I read somewhere that beauty is produced by sustained contradiction.Claudia Rankine, The Provenance of Beauty

I have a friend that always says about theater, if power goes out across the world, we can still have theater even if we might not have television.—Anthony Werner

…my dream is that we figure out what to do with technology that allows us to fill every seat, so you have longer runs and more theaterbecause it’s too tiny right now, it’s just too tiny. There’s not enough of it.—Karen Evans

I actually do think we’re in a time of great abundance. It’s funny that there is a common misperception among bigger theaters that audiences are afraid of new plays, but I don’t find that to be true today. The abundance is not just in the fact that there are new plays, the abundance is in the fact that audiences are willing and actively hungry to engage with new plays, and nothing creates abundance like desire.—Alison Carey

What’s exciting to me and difficult is the way in which theater relies on so many different people doing what they do. And it’s fabulous. And it makes you love the idea of capacity and capability.—Claudia Rankine

I hear more and more stories focused on ways of partnering, of aligning resources and competencies. I think we are going to hear more stories about community connections and ways in which new work is relating to the world. I think we’re going to start hearing more stories about how old barriers are falling—things like the changes taking place in the way we can use technology to connect and promote our work, or collaborations that right now seem impossible between different organizations and aesthetics. I think we’re actually going to start seeing stories about successes…—David Dower

The idea of theater will encompass the full spectrum of performance and its possibilities. It will include dances without people, actors without words, visual art installations, object theater, high technology and gaming, choose-your-own adventures, one-on-one interactions, flash mobs, high sensory interactions, rock concerts, radio shows, Broadway spectaculars, stories told in living rooms and fire-lit caves, full and all-consuming environments that will engulf you, one-minute gestures that will change you.—Meiyin Wang, The Theater of the Future

…as I say repeatedly to my students or my interns or any emerging playwright: just accept your suicidal impulses and figure out how to live with them and survive despite them.—P. Carl, Dialing the Suicide Hotline

When I couldn’t find a costume designer who did I turn to? Mom, of course. She made Christmas pajamas for me when I was five, why not sew costumes now that I’m forty? Throughout the whole process: a feeling of effortlessness, of resources existing to be shared, of a community of artists who know what it takes to make a thing of beauty.—Lisa D’Amour, The Bounty of Big Institutions and the Glory of Grass Roots


In the coming months, look for the launch of a new and improved that has been expanded to include a blog and space for knowledge commons projects—emphasizing a cultural shift from “me” to “we” and the importance of sharing resources and ideas.





I think everything I know about being an artistic director or a manager I learned in a rehearsal room. I want to create a collaborative environment. I don’t want to micromanage. I want people to come up with ideas that are better than my own. I’m not afraid to challenge people but the goal is to do so in a way that also offers support. My interactions with the marketing staff or the fundraising and development staff or the board of directors happen in exactly the same way. It is ultimately about a conversation of  “Here’s a vision. Who can think of an interesting way to get there?”—Marc Masterson

And if Broadway can have a Mormon musical they can have a
 Mexican one too—[there are] over a million Mexicans in NYC!—Richard Montoya, A Manifesto

I believe the life of a playwright is fucking great. We make up shit and if we ask big, messy questions in a compelling, theatrical way—if we’re good at getting scripts, projects out there and constantly improving—people will pay us to do it. People will fly us around the country for it, around the world. Parts of the system suck, but there is a lot that is working about it. There are a lot of places that do new plays, know how to nurture them, and will pay a playwright real money. Sure, it’s hard to make money writing plays, but try making money writing poetry.—Mat Smart, The Real Reasons Playwrights Fail

The first time I walked into a theater, I knew it was where I wanted to spend my life.—Dan Wolf, The Tuedelband Plays On

I am always gravitating toward moments when marginal people say something truthful, whether they are speaking to power or just to themselves on a street corner. I live in a city because I want to be where the confines of passable behavior are as broad as possible. I feel like cities have saved me over and over again; so has being an artist.—Aaron Landsman, Asking Everyone to Act

People will always crave bodies sweating in the room. Stories will always need to be told. Audiences will be in performances, where they will crave being asked to be still and be present. To gather and to listen deeply.—Meiyin Wang, The Theater of the Future

There’s vitality about creativity that happens fast and a confidence gained in the continuity of moving from one project to the next. But I’m learning the value of the slow as well and beginning to understand that there’s a balance between the two that’s worth waiting for.—Josh Tobissen, The Value of the Slow

The American soul has been influenced by so much and from so many directions. It is still a place people risk their lives from all over the world to get to and for a reason. We are a place of new beginnings rooted in ancient worlds. …The American soul is deeply rooted in what Gertrude Stein wrote towards the end of her life in her novella Brewsie and Willie, our ability to pioneer.—Marissa Chibas

I like when artists, and their art, get people’s dander up. These artists genuinely challenge me to think about playwriting, and the role of the playwright, differently. They expand my own storytelling language, and explode my sense of how I might participate in creating theater—or, for that matter, just making a scene.—Max “Bunny” Sparber, Bad Influences

Why limit what you do to what you’ve done before? Each play I write is essentially a problem, a difficulty, a minefield. Begging for an elegant solution. Daring me to execute a plan with just the right moves.—Susan Miller, Casting Myself

If I, 
as an artist and a citizen, want the best chance to be a part of that future, I have to put the focus outside of myself, not because I want to be selfless, but because I believe discovery and significance comes from task, obstacle, and a sense of context.—Michael Rohd, Civic Theater

I would prefer to be a creative collaborator in a collaborative art form because, although playwriting might be singular in its early stages, in a production, it’s hard to maintain singularity. … a lot of us love this business because, although singularity might make for a good play, it rarely results in a good production. In many cases, the sole vision doesn’t make for good theater or good institutions for that matter.—P. Carl, Was I Born This Way?

It is an exciting thing to work with a group of adept trained performers, ensemble-style, to discover ways to tell a story through movement, spoken text, characterization. But even more delicious, in my experience, is to plan a scene featuring the Moon as a major character and know that in a moment, a small wooden planet with a face can appear from behind a table, and open his mouth, and start to sing.—Seth Bockley, Writing for the Moon (and other adventures in object theater)

A confession: my faith in the theatre is tenuous. It’s challenged every day. Sometimes I feel like I spend my life searching for the art and artists who will re-excite that shaky faith. I’ve found a place that does it in an old Midtown church building surrounded by beautiful, ferocious people who are driven to reimagine the world. And I’ve found a few artists of my generation who continue to inspire me. I keep looking for those rare theatre makers who can do what Peter Brook describes, mingling the rough, the holy, and the immediate: Who know and use the theatre’s rough magic. Who touch the sacred. Who make the art alive, here, now.—Todd London, A Lover’s Guide to American Playwrights

My clearest task as a theater artist—
To be an agent of thoughtful citizenship and dynamic relationship building…—Michael Rohd, Civic Theater

Actors inspire me. When an actor is truthful, when they’re really doing the work and embodying another person, it moves me so much. Acting can seem like the most egotistical thing in the world, but then it can also be this beautiful letting-go of identity, this embracing of the void. The really good actors do that, they go onstage and they let go of their egos and you watch the actor’s ego fly up into the sky like a balloon.—Annie Baker

I would not be an artist if it weren’t for the work of the women and the poets that came before me—the bulldagger dykes, the cockroach poet and the colored girls. They held open the door of the theater for me.—Virginia Grise, My Body, My Words

New work is like new love—it makes me feel…optimistic.—James Still, The Peaceful Warrior: What’s Fabulous Got To Do with It

Sharing better will require a new generosity. It will require giving credit, sharing credit, and forgoing credit. It will require building new institutions and rebuilding old ones.—P. Carl, Getting Over Ourselves

My theater reaches out—I cross borders with queer directors, Anglo female protagonists, Native American, African American heroes lost in the margins of U.S history.… Do you reach back to me?—Richard Montoya, A Manifesto

The theater needs to take you some place and give you an experience, an emotional experience that hopefully is also not mind numbing, but mind stimulating. It doesn’t mean it has to be intellectual or academic. …You know, you’re laughing at stuff that’s genuinely funny and surprising and you’re visually struck and stimulated and you fall in love with these people onstage and you find yourself incredibly moved. To me, … that’s the bottom line.—Steve Epp

I can now actually talk about joy in relation to my work, because my work is how I live.—Liz Engleman, The Zen of Llamaturgy

Let something unexpected happen.—Kirk Lynn, Prayer for a Bad Performance

Just do what you do and do it well. Do it so ferociously and with such passion and such ingenuity that your community becomes a locus for artists who want to live there. I continue to be a firm believer that if you do great work, the audience will come, the dollars will come, the artists will come wherever you are. Do work that matters to your community.—Jason Loewith

We are endowed with certain unalienable rights, and among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So, keep finding ways to make a life for yourself, have some liberty, and be happy. Fight for equity and make sure you aren’t being taken advantage of, but find other measures for success if you can. If you hit big—wonderful! Remember the friends with whom you started out and mentor the next generation.—Julie Felise Dubiner, The Bill of Rights for Dramaturgs

Every artist builds on what came before.—James Still, The Peaceful Warrior: What’s Fabulous Got To Do with It

You must be flexible, open, always learning, always humble. Always ready to admit that while you might know some things, there are also a hell of a lot of other things that you don’t know.—Deborah Stein, What I Mean When I Talk About Collaboration

While the rest of the house—the entire world, really—is quiet and still and dark, I sit by myself in the small circle of light cast by the antique lamp in my study, with nothing but my own thoughts for company, and write without hesitation, self-consciousness, or distraction. I am utterly and purely creative. I feel alive and, bizarrely, free.—Gwydion Suilebhan, Losing My Insomnia

…while these pieces were elegantly made, filled with strong images, crisp performances, and precise detailing, none of them were using their design or their language to tell me what it was I was supposed to be discussing or thinking when I left the theater. They instead excited my senses, and engaged my brain in the moment of the performance. By not delivering a package that answered all questions, they engaged me as an audience member. These pieces required something of me to complete themselves.—Robert Kaplowitz, But What’s the Audience For?

Never a moment of sobriety!—Beth Henley

I am one of those people who helped bring, and hopefully will continue to help bring, new works to life. And it looks as though one of those new works is going to be me.—Nan Barnett, One of Those People

You don’t take polls, you don’t ask people what they want to see and then do it. You do it and you hope that because it’s an authentic reflection of who you really are and what matters to you, it is going to awaken something in somebody else. And they say, “god it’s amazing, that play spoke to me.” You make something and it goes into someone’s heart and mind and it is relevant because it’s relevant to you.—John Moscone

At any given moment, it is likely that someone somewhere will be angry at TCG. The range of perspective within our field is just so wonderfully immense.—Philip Himberg, What a “Renegade” New Play Fanatic Can Bring to the Leadership of the TCG Board

The fabric of the thought that propelled us was that theatre should stop serving the function of making money, for which it has never been and never will be suited, and start serving the revelation and shaping of the process of living, for which it is uniquely suited, for which it, indeed, exists.—Zelda Fichandler, Address to the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society in Celebration of the Third Annual Zelda Fichandler Award

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