Increasing Playwright Engagement Through Peer Review—Part Three
A three-part blog series exploring the “Why” behind one playwright project’s choice to utilize peer review for play selection, the “How” to implement it, and “What” the end result has been.
One of our primary goals at Little Black Dress INK (LBDI) is to engage female playwrights in a stronger creative network. We’ve worked towards achieving this with our Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Project—something I’ve been writing about these past few weeks at HowlRound. This past Sunday we presented our ONSTAGE Finalists via a staged reading at the Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC) and accompanying livestream on HowlRound TV.
The reading was the culmination of months of planning, and (thankfully) went very well. Five of our eleven playwrights were able to attend the reading in-person, with the rest of our playwrights able to watch the live-stream from their computers. It felt incredibly rewarding to know that we weren’t just reading their work in a vacuum and that—going forward—I would be able to talk with the playwrights about these pieces in performance rather than talking at them.
Because now the plays move towards production.
At the close of my last piece, I said I’d talk more about the production angle of this festival, so I’ll settle into that now. It’s really the place where—now that the peer-review process has done its job—we set to work on nurturing our female playwright network.
In the past, LBDI’s peer review process led directly to production—there weren’t any semi-finalist readings, and the festival did not travel beyond Prescott. This year, however, we were branching out, which meant I needed to find creative partners willing to produce readings in other cities.
As I was readying the call for scripts, I reached out to directors and playwrights who I thought might be interested in becoming Partner Producers. Three amazing women signed on in Ithaca, New York; Sedona, Arizona; and Santa Barbara, California. I owe the successful expansion of this year’s programming to them.
Our twenty eight semi-finalists were given a reading by these partner producers in one of four locations (in addition to the three cities mentioned above, I produced a reading in Waco, TX). Each partner worked from a position that their resources could support, meaning any designs I may have had on uniformity were quickly abandoned and I instead embraced the fact that every location would have its own energy. For instance, our Santa Barbara reading took place in a book store/gallery, the Waco reading at the local community theater, the Ithaca reading in an acting studio, and the Sedona reading took place outdoors at the Sedona Arts Center.
This inherent uniqueness meant that each location’s playwright had a slightly different experience, but also that each producer could tailor their reading to the community they work in. I’m looking forward to fine-tuning this for next year so that I’m able to provide a very basic “What’s goes into an ONSTAGE Project reading” guide for our partners, before getting out of their way and letting them do what they do best.
Once our semi-finalist readings were underway, I began work on the LA reading of the 11 ONSTAGE Finalists. Reaching out to the LATC was a no-brainer; they have a terrific space downtown and their focus is on giving voice to under-represented communities. I knew they’d appreciate what we are trying to do with the ONSTAGE Project.
From there, it was in the hands of our awesome LA directors and actors. I’m not saying I haven’t spent a lot of time wrangling the administrative side of things, but really—when you have a great group of creative artists helping bring an event like this to fruition, all the hours spent sending emails, contacting press, and blogging like a fiend are totally worth it.
All told, our semi/finalist play readings took place over the course of about five weeks in as many cities and involved over sixty artists.
For five weeks my producing and directing partners and I have lived and breathed these playwrights. We are invested in them and hoping for their continued success.
Which is where the networking comes in.
Throughout the ONSTAGE journey, we’ve been doing our best to promote each playwright and connect them with the people coming in contact with their work at every stage, be it other playwrights, partner producers, the directors, the actors, or the audience—each and every person coming in contact with these plays has been given tools to help them find out more about the playwrights and learn how to connect with these writers through our project.
Because, at the end of the day, a ten-minute play festival should not just be an engaging evening of entertainment to the community it’s showing in, but it should serve as a theatrical introduction between creative partners as well.
We want these plays to have life beyond our festival! We want these playwrights to thrive! We want these playwrights to stay in touch with us—and with one another— so that we can continue to celebrate their successes.
Which is why we use peer review, why I’ve developed a play festival that belongs to the playwrights who send us their work, and why we aim to nurture the creative relationships developed along the way—it’s just so much better to be a writer amongst peers than working out on the fringe all alone.
And so, as we work towards our fall productions (and begin work on our 2015 festival) we will continue to reach out to new playwrights and producers who like what we’re doing and want to be a part of the adventure. Because we’re growing, and we hope you’ll grow with us!