Maybe I should say who I am? Karla Boos, Artistic Director of Quantum Theatre in Pittsburgh, which I founded over twenty years ago. We make experimental work, original pieces and plays from around the world, some re-envisioned classic plays and unusual operas. One of the ways we experiment is with environment; we stage them all environmentally in unusual places.
I really loved how thoughtfully Tammy spoke as a Pittsburgher. We are all that, and I’m sure all the responders will feel as I do, that we join in answering the question of what this means because we care about our town. We’re moved by its complicated connections and layers, and we’re proud of its fairly amazing artistic profile and accomplishments, in our art form and in all the arts. As artists, we feel that our accomplishments are connected somehow to the character of the city itself, the relationships that come from its many layers. At least I do, since my work depends on a super-adventurous audience, people who go to a play not having a clue what might happen, and our productions are inspired in some ways by the physical city. So it’s good to note that a problem exists. I care that local playwrights don’t have ongoing, natural ways to develop. This is not only a problem of funding (because that does exist to the degree that funders are trying hard to create opportunities for individual artists of all media) but also due to a lack of local theaters willing to produce local playwrights.
Tammy, in her article, did not suggest as a solution the creation of a theater (or more than one) whose mission was to produce new plays by local playwrights. Do you wish that existed? In a recent article about the Bricolage and Pittsburgh Playwrights collaboration to produce Dutchman; Justin Laing of the Heinz Endowments comments that Dutchman is old and its sentiments tired (maybe this good man didn’t exactly say that? Maybe he said “already expressed” or something like that?). But I’m sure I heard him say words to the effect of, why are we reflecting LeRoi Jones’ fifty-year-old thoughts, where’s the contemporary play, that comes from within our community, and addresses the ongoing issues of race in Pittsburgh that Tammy points to—and I’d add is brilliant, and might endure like Dutchman?
So… a theater dedicated to the development and evolution of playwrights? I’ll play devil’s advocate to my own suggestion. Theaters are dedicated to making great theater, aren’t they—however they define that? One hasn’t arisen that thinks it will make great theater in an ongoing, sustainable way solely from producing, nurturing, and developing the writing of local playwrights. There also hasn’t been a professional theater dedicated to having local professional actors on its boards. Every professional theater does have local actors on its boards—what could be better? But no one’s dedicated to that, only to making great theater—and sometimes that can be accomplished with local artists and sometimes it can’t. Same with directors, designers, and every kind of artist in our collaborative art form.
Tammy didn’t say she wished that a theater existed for that sole purpose. She said that she wished theaters would take on a nurturing role with a local playwright who interests them. She’s right, I’d say, but would also just warn that I think there’s something that comes before all else: we should all believe that we’re making the greatest piece of work of our lives every single time we ask an audience to spend two hours with us. Though I feel shy to reveal these things, I not only need to feel that, I’ll further say that I, personally, need to feel like I’m dealing with a new language every time, that I’ve never heard this particular language before, I don’t understand it necessarily, it’s moving me; in its unknown quality it’s providing me with new meanings, and I need to replicate my own process of discovery of its meaning in the two hours’ traffic the audience will experience. My purpose is to give the audience its own, speeded up—edited, I guess—discovery of new meaning.
...we should all believe that we’re making the greatest piece of work of our lives every single time we ask an audience to spend two hours with us.
So I already have quite a tall order for myself, as a person who runs a theater that does four works per year—too many, probably, for such a tall order. My theater can’t take on a different mission. But I could, definitely, feel that my collaboration is with writers as it is with directors, performers, and designers. But I’ve found that writers in the American theater think of themselves apart, think of their writing existing as a totality in itself—I think this even though Tammy has articulated the value of the collaboration from a playwright’s perspective (and it could be my limited experience, I know less about American writers). When I said “language,” did you understand that I meant an entire continuum of communication, so much more than words on a page, words in the mouths of characters?
Maybe I haven’t felt like my trip—discovering the new language, finding meaning in the environment and what it yields for the ensemble, is something to impose on a writer? I feel shy to even go there with writers because they seem like such self-sufficient entities in their rooms with their imaginations and their desks. Maybe writers should understand other theater artists better—where Artistic Directors are coming from and where directors and ensembles of performers are coming from. Maybe the play on a page as the point of departure is not the only way. I do think I’m speaking from limited experience, for all my twenty plus years, that writers no doubt yearn to be better-understood by me and my kind too, and Tammy’s point is they want to come to the party, so to speak.
There’s my Howl. It’s meant to provoke, like my theater. I have the greatest respect for anyone trying to make work from a personal point of view, and wish it was easier for all of us.