Saturday, June 27, 2015
How I Did It: Establishing a Playwriting Career Edited by Lawrence Harbison
How I Did It: Establishing a Playwriting Career
Edited by Lawrence Harbison
Applause Theater & Cinema Books, 2015
Reviewed by Deborah Finkelstein
It’s the question all of us ask: How did this writer make it? Lawrence Harbison decided to find out. He interviewed 30 playwrights and asked them to share their stories.
Joining a writing group was a popular recommendation. It’s a great place to share work, and receive support and feedback. Many groups do readings and some even invite directors. “Careers are built by establishing working relationships with other like-minded people,” says David Auburn (6). Harbison adds, “Try to get into a playwright workshop. If there isn’t one in your area, start one.” (x)
Many suggested self-producing plays rather than waiting for a theater to stage plays. This allows the writer to hear the work live, and share work with the world. Plus one never knows who’s in the audience that might want to produce the play. Bekah Brunstetter says, “We wanted to work on plays. We didn’t want to wait for opportunities—we wanted to make them for ourselves.” (20)
Writing groups and self-production also build community, as do attending school or working in the theater as an actor, director, stage manager, stagehand, etc. These are all great ways to meet other theater folks. “Offer to read stage directions,” Harbison says. “Do anything to make the theater aware of you and your work.” (xi)
Community was an important ingredient in many playwrights’ prosperity, and several shared the way someone they knew helped open doors for them. “Make your friendships, your connections, early. You just never know who’ll wind up being in a position to help you further your career,” says Lauren Gunderson (97). Playwrights added that it’s important to kindle the friendships, “I spend some part of every day keeping in touch with people,” says Aaron Posner (161).
Some writers never submitted plays, but several did attribute their achievements to sending plays out to theaters, contests, and festivals. “You never know who’s going to be reading it,” says Gina Gionfriddo (61), and John Cariani (38) adds, ““All it takes is for one person to love your play.” Brunstetter prescribes applying everywhere, “I’d look up submission opportunities… make myself deadlines, and try and meet them all.” (20) This advice, like much of the book, was applicable to not just playwrights, but most artists.
A few of the playwrights reminded writers to persevere and shared tales of rejection. “I had a briefcase full of rejections,” says Neil LaBute (123). Brunstetter spoke about the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. “I applied eight times before I got accepted. If at first you don’t succeed, apply apply again.” (25). Eric Coble reminds writers that it’s natural to feel rejected sometimes, “Keep writing even when it seems like nobody wants to see or hear or read what you’re creating. All writers feel like that sometimes. You just have to keep going.” (48)
In addition to describing “how they did it,” playwrights also shared stories about their background. They spoke about their writing style, their habits, and their inspiration. They gave details about the journeys of specific plays. Set in Q and A format, the book is worth a read to anyone wanting to learn more about contemporary playwrights in the U.S.