Children’s Theater

@WordsPlayers #PlaywrightRespect and an open Letter

The following was posted in the comment section of the Words Players Facebook page, re: the recent controversory over their call for submissions.

There are some here who believe that the playwrights who have voiced our concerns have somehow “bullied” Words Players, Mr Driscoll, or their young actors and directors. I have been closely following the hashtag on Twitter and the @WordsPlayers twitter account and have seen snark but not bulling. We have not in any way threatened violence or made fun of you personally. We did not dox anyone or threaten to. We have not once, that I can find, attacked any of the young actors or directors. Many of us have stated, on Facebook, on Twitter, on Blogs, that our biggest concern is the education of these students. That we want everyone to treat playwrights with respect. In the original call, as it stood, many of us felt that we were not being respected, both by tone, word choice, and by the implication that our words would be changed with or without our permission. Mr Driscoll has graciously acknowledged that it could be read this way. But we still have questions and we still have concerns. I think just about anyone who has ever spent time in the theater has seen actors “go up” or have paraphrased because they either couldn’t be bothered to memorize or just couldn’t memorize. I have been involved in theater for a quarter of century. The majority of my life has been spent acting, writing, directing, producing, live theater. And most of that has been on the high school or collegiate level. I have worked in churches and in bars. And I’ve seen it happen. But just because it does happen does not make it right. As someone who has just finished directing a production of Legally Blonde, I strove every day to make sure that my young actors (most were between the ages of 16-22) got every word, word perfect. At one point there was some confusion, the book said one girl sang a part of a song, the score another. I contacted MTI and said, “hey we have a question here…” and they answered it within 24 hours and apologized for not answering it sooner. Does that mean we had a word perfect show? No. Because it happens. Bt my actors knew that was what I was striving for. In my training, I was taught “you aren’t the writer of this play, you cannot change the words no matter how much you want to.” And that has never limited my artistic ability to create something new and fresh and original. In my adaptation of Alice In Wonderland, I wrote “Hatter enters, sits down and the chair breaks. He tries to fix the chair” (that isn’t word perfect to the script btw I just don’t have it handy in front of me to copy and paste), when it was performed in Atlanta, I saw 2 minutes of some of the funniest physical comedy I’ve ever seen. That is not modification of the script, it is an interpretation.

There are those who have asked, why we have held this amateur theater to a professional standard. My first response is, don’t you want everyone to be treated like they are a profession, regardless if they are or not? Wouldn’t you want your children to learn how to act and react in a professional environment and learn the proper “professional” way of handling things in the theater? My second response is this, Mr Driscoll is a college professor and is a mentor to the young students of Words Players. As such, he should be aware of the current standards and practices in the theater world (which for decades have included not changing writers words without their permission, provided the writer’s works are not in the public domain.) As an educator, he SHOULD be held to a higher standard. Just because this is “art” doesn’t mean that there isn’t a professional behavior to be taught, and our main concern was that the next generation of theater creators (actors, writers, directors) were not being taught that. Surely you would want your business teacher to teach your children the proper way to do accounting, or build a computer or cook or whatever. Before you can bend the rules, before you can “break” the rules, you must learn the rules, I was always taught (and that there are some rules that shouldn’t be broken) and again, our concern, based upon this call, was that an unprofessional behavior would be taught.

I sincerely believe Mr Driscoll, North Words and Words Players have the very best intentions at heart. I do believe that they respect writers, but that respect isn’t reflected in the call for scripts that we saw (on your public website, and yes as I mentioned in my follow up comment above, it is a public website that anyone can access and does access. If you did not mean for this call to be spread, a simple “this submission opportunity is by invitation only” and would not be posted on your website OR you could have put, much like the Barnyard Players in Kansas City have done, “this submission is limited to people within 300 miles of Rochester, MN” or anything similar.) Writers have had the words abused, as I said, and almost every writer can attest to seeing it happen, or actor, or whatever. And in light of last years incidents with the transgender casting of Olenna without David Mamet’s permission and the incident with DGA president Doug Wright’s play, Hands On A Hard Body, and the rearranging of words, songs, scenes, etc without permisison and the arrogance displayed there (the director reportedly said “But you have to admit I made it better” to the writer) and in follow-up investigation on TUTS in Houston, I hope all of you can see why many writers are defensive and take up this cause as being quite personal. Words Players is not the first to have had this happen nor will it be the last. It was just a perfect combination of events, bloggers, and writers taking up a cause that was quite important to us. The continued silence on the issue, the deleting of posts criticizing the call for submissions (and I saw some of those that were deleted and they were not in any way “bulling” or “vulgar” or anything else.) fueled us on, encouraged us to make our voice heard louder and louder until the Dramatist’s Guild, Doug Wright, Playbill and Broadway World had no choice but to hear us. And at that point you did what you had to do.

I understand why Mr. Driscoll granted an exclusive with Playbill, but I would have loved to have seen him reach out to those that first started this call, particularly Donna Hoke and Howard Sherman.

I know this was long, and I appreciate anyone taking the time to read it and hopefully the critics of #playwrightrespect understand where we come from.

Reading their letter to the Dramatist Guild, I can sympathize. They describe a collective environment where writers, directors and actors helped each other. I love that style of theater. I love workshops, and I love that kids spearheded this.  My first couple of plays were done in the same guerrilla style “hey my dad has a barn, lets put on a play” style. Hell, directing Legally Blonde, I had no budget; props, costumes, set decoration came from actors closest, homes, or out of mine or my co-director’s pocket (and I wasn’t working much so that made it difficult). I understand where they are coming from, but that doesn’t make it any less right or wrong, how it was suggested it would be handled. There is growing up as a theater and growing out and then there is remaining stagnant. I hope this was simply a sign of growing pains.

Advertisements

#PlaywrightRespect and Moving Forward: Minnesota Troupe Responds to Critical Dramatist Guild Letter About Rules for New Play Fest – Playbill.com

Earlier this week, I blogged about a  youth theater program in Minnesota, their call for submissions and the backlash amongst playwrights that it was causing.

It started with a blog from playwright Donna Hoke (you can find that in my previous two blogs on this issue), followed by a blog from producer and advocate Howard Sherman, then The Dramatists Guild of America responded and both Playbill and BroadwayWorld picked up on the story. Within the small theater and playwright world on Twitter and the like, it was a hotly discussed topic with snark, anger, some disagreements, and genuine discussion.

So where do we stand today?

The artistic director, David Driscoll, has responded with a slightly more thought out message then we received last year at this time, which was “If you don’t like our guidelines, don’t respond.” What Mr. Driscoll has said is that they never change the playwright’s words without permission (Then why do your guidelines say you can? I ask) and that they plan on working with the Guild to rework their guidelines. That’s good, a positive step forward. Now we need to work on educating people that they cannot change any script period without the playwright’s permission.

That means if you can’t find a mauve dress for your production of INTO THE WOODS, you don’t just randomly change it to “purple”. It means when there is confusion in a song as to who sings Kate, Serena or Pilar, you contact the licensing company/publisher who can tell you (as I recently had to do). It means asking if there is a question, and collaborating. It means, as a theater, if the writer refuses to work with you, you either do it as written or you don’t do the show. It means paying for every performance and not cloaking some performances as “previews” or “sponsor nights” or dress rehearsal with an audience that pays.

#PlaywrightRespect isn’t about just respecting the playwright’s words, but respecting their craft and paying them for their art and educating the next generation of theater creators.

Minnesota Troupe Responds to Critical Dramatist Guild Letter About Rules for New Play Fest – Playbill.com.

#PlaywrightRespect and why it’s important

If you missed the hullabaloo over the weekend regarding the #PlaywrightRespect hashtag on Twitter, here is an overview. Saturday, the talented Donna Hoke posted a call for new, never produced, never published ten-minute plays from a group called Words Players. Donna went into great detail about WHY this call was offensive to playwrights in her blog post (which I linked to in a previous blog) and suggested tweeting about, using Facebook to spread the word, etc, using the hashtag #PlaywrightRespect. If you follow me on Twitter or on Facebook, you saw that I was madly tweeting and retweeting about it. Words Players responded by not allowing anyone to post on their Facebook page and ignoring the tweets and hashtag. When this same issue was presented last year at this time, the management at Words Players responded with,”if you don’t like it, don’t submit”. Which is a response many of us chose to not do last year and this year.

The respected theater producer and blogger Howard Sherman picked up on the issue and blogged about it himself on Sunday. In that blog, a commentator who works with Words Players asked why this was such a big deal.

This is why.

I’m a working playwright, involved primarily in Theater for Young Audiences and community theater. I work with a lot of bright kids, smart talented kids, with aspirations of being theater teachers, dance teachers, English teachers or performers. During a recent rehearsal of a big name Music Theater International (MTI) licensed musical, I noticed the actors were taking minor liberties. Skipping a word here, a line there, rearranging words. To most people, this would not be a big deal, but I wanted to take this opportunity to teach these 16-21 years old (with a few 30 year olds and older thrown in) something. I sat down and opened up MTI’s licensing agreement at the front of the script and read to them and had them read along, the agreement that we are not allowed to change words, etc as written. It was like seeing a light bulb go off. This was something they had never been taught.  As I explained, “even if I wasn’t a writer and this wasn’t a hot button issue with me, I would still be talking to you about this because this is what the license says we have to do.”

The #PlaywrightRespect hashtag was chosen because that is what theaters are not doing when they make blanket changes, lines, gender, etc. without at least consulting the playwright. There is a difference between interpretation and changes to the script. Here’s an example, I recently had a production of my TYA adaption of Alice in Wonderland done by a children’s theater education program in Atlanta. My script says this:

HATTER crosses to the table, sits down and the chair breaks. He sighs and begins to work on it.

What they did was one of the funniest, couple of minutes of physical comedy I’ve seen a young actor do. It wasn’t anything I had imagined, but it was a legit choice that respected what I wrote. However, they respected every written word. They had a chair break and they had the Mad Hatter work on the chair. They said every word of dialogue as written.

We could choose to not send in our plays, and many of us have made that choice. HOWEVER, the reason this is an issue to many of us is because we share the same goals as you and your company do, to educate the next generation of theater and art creators and that starts with teaching respect for the writer’s words. The writer’s who have spent hours, days, weeks, etc into crafting a play that you want to produce. By asking us to write a brand new work, even one that is ten minutes long, without respecting the words and the time it takes to write that, is insulting to us. It’s like asking for a gift and then breaking it because it wasn’t the right color, or whatever. It doesn’t teach children about the collaborative nature of theater but rather encourages a culture of entitlement.

Summer Lovin’ (The Theater)

Last summer (2014) I thought was going to be my busy summer theater summer, but it looks like this year is just going to be as busy. Last year, it was acting in Into The Woods for Hays Community Theater, acting in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for Phillipsburg Community Theater, and acting and directing a show for Sherri’s Playhouse, heard on BlogTalkRadio. I then finished the summer with a stage version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. this year, I’m co-directing Legally Blonde for Hays Community Theater (my home stage), Allie In Wonderland will be performed in Stockton, KS as the inaugural play for Rooks County Community Theater, and I’ll once again be writing, directing, and acting in Sherri’s Playhouse. Plus, I need to do edits on one play and work on some others. I also have a potential commission coming up, so fingers crossed for that. I’m also wanting to make a trip this summer to Hutchinson, KS for Smallville ComicCon and to see the Hutchinson Community Theater production of It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman! (aka The Superman musical) and to Denver for Book of Mormon!

Yes I’m crazy like that, but I’m also the same guy that flew to Atlanta on a Thursday and back to Kansas on a Friday to see PageOne Studios there do Allie In Wonderland. You may have noticed there’s some pictures from that show on my website. I’ve also updated my webpage to include FREE SCRIPTS! PDF copies of some of my monologues, one-minute plays, and duets are available for download, perusal, and performance. I just ask that I’m informed of the performances. Right now you’ll find 13 original works up there. Why 13? Well 13 is my lucky number, that’s why.

I’ll try to blog as often as I can, but with a summer this busy…

A GoFundMe Campaign

Dear Friends,

Yes, I consider you a friend if you read and follow this blog. If you follow me on my Facebook page, you know that I’ve launched a GoFundMe Campaign. Why? Well, my “brilliant” (not my words, the words of the producing company 😉 ) play ALLIE IN WONDERLAND is being produced by the good folks at Page One Studios in Roswell, GA (that’s just outside of Atlanta) in March. That also marks the 5th year anniversary of Allie In Wonderland’s premiere performance in HIill City, KS. I would love to “travel down the rabbit hole” to ATL and see Allie performed by these wonderful students. Thus, the GoFundMe campaign. So far, I”m just inches away (well technically $10 away) from the halfway goal of $800.

If you have a few dollars, coins, sheckels, drachmas, whatever to spare, would you please consider throwing them my way? I know money is tight, tight, tight for all of us, but know that I appreciate all the support, even just the reading of this and sharing it on Facebook or something. I’ve got a list of rewards including but not limited to copies of my plays (both digital and physical), cookies, treats, and much more.

You can find out more at my GoFundMe Page at http://www.gofundme.com/AllieInATL or by clicking the links above.

Thanks again you guys ROCK and keep Wonderland alive!

Everett!