My Case for Being a Philadelphia Playwright
My Case for Being a Philadelphia Playwright
I grew up in Philly. Okay, I’ve already lied. I’m a writer, and writers are liars. I grew up in Bala Cynwyd, which is only a few blocks from City Line Avenue. Which I would cross mainly by bike with my friends to go to Roy Rogers. So I grew up in Philly-ish.
But when I began writing plays I was living in New York City, so I was by no means a Philadelphia area playwright. I wasn’t an anything-area playwright. New York is not an area. It’s just New York. And if you are writing plays in New York City, your core community is most likely fellow unproduced playwrights. You wake up each day and remind yourself that you are in New York City (holy shit, I live in New York City!), you are writing plays (I can actually finish a play! And then another one! Me!) and that you don’t have an agent (Do I exist today? Is there a point to me? If I never wrote another play would anyone know or care?). There are good things about being a playwright in New York City. You can get absurdly good underemployed actors for your self-produced showcases. There is a staggering array of places to go have drinks and commiserate with fellow artists. But for me, I never got a great sense of community. I had some great individual experiences, but no long-slow build.
When I left I ended up where so many of us end up who have given up on their lofty dreams and come to grips with living in the real world: Jersey. So now I live and write plays in Princeton. For a while I thought this meant I was in playwright purgatory. We all want to write plays that matter, plays that rock peoples’ world, plays with “holy-shit-did-that-just-happen?” scenes. I just didn’t imagine such plays could be written in Central New Jersey. But I got over it and tried to write them anyway. Eventually I found a small, miraculous theatre in Trenton that produces new plays called Passage that has become a sort of artistic home.
But I also came to appreciate my proximity to Philly. Princeton hovers within the hour-ish range of Philadelphia and I began to realize that maybe if I hung out around enough I could call myself a Philadelphia-area playwright. And what’s interesting is how much I’m pleased to be able to (barely) refer to myself that way. I grew up watching theatre around Philadelphia (my father being a director in the city and theatre professor at Villanova), so I’ve always known there was great stuff happening here. But I think it took living in New York to really appreciate the strength of the Philadelphia theatre community.
I was lucky enough to be part of Playpenn in 2010, which is really a pretty major event in the regional theatre world. But when I arrived it was amazing to me how tight-knit people were: actors, directors, designers, writers and theatre professionals who really effing care about what they do. Just about everyone seems to know each other and, more often than not, really like each other. People want to see their fellow artists succeed. They post passionate FB posts about plays they are not involved with. I think this may be because people in the Philadelphia theatre community are here because they want to be here. They want to build a life in the theatre that can be maintained over time, that can grow and evolve.
I had another great experience as part of the National New Play Network’s showcase at Interact. And when Passage Theatre’s production of one of my plays won a Barrymore award (RIP) a couple years ago, I felt I earned some Philly-area playwright street cred.
So now comes Philly OMPF. Already it’s been a great chance to reconnect with some very smart, very cool people. To me, a one-minute play celebrates the insanity of a playwright’s effort to connect with an audience in live performance. We all have less time than we think we do. A one-minute play puts the stopwatch on and makes us realize how little time we really have to make the connection. I look forward to seeing what kind of mayhem we Philly-area playwrights can come up with in our 80 minutes. And I look forward to drinks after.
The First Philadelphia One-Minute Play Festival in Partnership with InterAct Theatre Company runs July 29-31st. Proceeds to benefit the Philadelphia New Play Initiave-a program dedicated to supporting and uplifting the voices of local Philadelphia Playwrights. Tickets are $20 and available here.