I remember the day I pressed enter to send a request to be Don Nigro’s friend on Facebook. I was sitting across from Mandy Connor, who had just produced his play, Paganini, and she and I were discussing our love of his plays. I shared how much I loved directing his play about Edward Munch called Madonna as we discovered he had an actual account on Facebook, not just a fan page. We both decided to friend request him and like giggling school girls, we pressed send at the same time. We were over the moon when it came back accepted! I was even more shocked to see that Mr. Nigro was open to discussing my show, was complimentary of the production photos and was interested in my program. When I shared with him my desire to produce another one of his shows and told him my available casting options, he sent me several scripts, some not published yet, and offered his help. I was in awe of his generosity and appreciation for what I did as an educator.
With my new friend’s encouragement, I began to approach play selection differently. Not only did I look at the suitability of the work but also the possibility of connecting with the playwright so my students would have an additional layer of instruction. By working with the playwright, when possible, my students had the opportunity to not only explore the work as a piece of literature with the author but, they were also exposed to another career opportunity in the field of Theatre. I pushed my fear of rejection aside and began communicating with playwrights through their agents and publishing companies and almost every playwright has been open to e-mailing me or even communicating directly with my students when we produce their work.
It is funny but, as directors and educators, we sometimes forget that the playwrights who generate the material we work on are open to collaboration and are a tremendous resource for us and our students. For many playwrights, the idea that their work is being produced in educational theatre is not only exciting for them but lucrative. I have found in working with playwrights like Jeffrey Hatcher on Smash, George Brant on Elephant’s Graveyard , Heidi Stillman on Hard Times For These Times , Sharman Macdonald on After Juliet, and Matthew Burnett on Theophilus North, a real appreciation for what we do in developing young talent. Playwrights are eager to see their work produced and many are willing to work with you and your company to clarify objectives and broaden the production experience.
Some playwrights have tailored their shows to be student centered and may even have study guides or supplementary materials available as I found when I worked with Matthew Burnett on Theophilus North. When I applied for the rights, Samuel French Inc. asked me if I was interested in Skyping with him. I was thrilled with the possibilities of such an opportunity and connected with Mr. Burnett before and after the Skype with my students. I told him my concept and discussed symbolism and meaning in the show. We discussed his adaptation and I submitted my ideas for adapting his show for UIL. Mr. Burnett worked with the students during the Skype session, answering their questions regarding the dramatic structure of his plot, his adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s novel and how he became a playwright. The experience went beyond my expectations with Mr. Burnett sending his support to the students and empowering them to make the show their own and enjoy the journey. His frequent shout outs to our company on Facebook were a real treat throughout the run. Mr. Burnett connected with the student’s love of theatre and was a tremendous inspiration. Following our UIL debut of his production, he produced his own one-act version of the show.
I have had many colleagues share their positive experiences about working and corresponding with playwrights and I challenge you to reach out to your playwright. Like me, you may be surprised at the amazing generosity of your playwright. At the beginning of the year, I posted a simple status update “Ambiguous Dialogues anyone……” It was an assignment we were covering that day in Theatre I class. By the time I got to work, my good Facebook friend, Don Nigro, had e-mailed me two original scripts with ambiguous dialogues. Wow! Nothing like having a direct line to a playwright! And for the record, Mandy Connor, who so boldly encouraged me to hit send on the friend request to Mr. Nigro is now a published playwright herself! I highly encourage you to check out her scripts, published by Playscripts, Ago and Lafayette No. 1.
Without hesitation, I encourage you to make contact with those individuals who wrote, adapted, and cultivated the script your students will be using to create their next masterpiece. The guidance, encouragement, clarification and direction you will receive are well worth your time and effort to make a connection. As you plan this year’s shows, look into corresponding with your playwrights. Your students will benefit from the experience and you could find a resource that continues giving even when the curtain closes.