suzy fay: discovering new voices

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LMDA NYC visits with Suzy Fay
Associate Program Director
Lark Play Development Center
Monday, September 12, 2011 at 1pm

The Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) New York City chapter continues to meet regularly with area theatre makers.  This day we convene in a conference room at the Lark Play Development Center‘s spiffy new (industrial, spare, functional, lovely) quarters on 43rd Street.  Lark has offices and performance and rehearsal and meeting space on the 4th and 5th floor of the theatre-friendly office building  — MTC and other familiar organizations also have a presence here. Attending this midday Monday are: Beth Blickers (LMDA Board member, Abrams Artists), Amy Jensen (LMDA regional VP, freelance dramaturg), Mike Cohen (Music Theatre Initiative  of the Public Theater, and Literary Manager for the York Theatre), Martha Wade Steketee (freelance dramaturg), Leah Hamos (Abrams Artists), and Stuart D’ver (playwright).

Discussion today is sparked by and circles back to David Dower‘s September 11, 2011 contribution to the Journal of the American Voices New Play Institute blog HowlRound in which he reflects on the role of various artists in the creative process. [Full essay here: http://tinyurl.com/6b9f2p7].  We start by asking, as dramaturgical observers in the room (rehearsal room, writing room, meeting room), how we appropriately play our roles.  Several attendees have examples in which they participated or of which they heard in which a project somehow got off the rails.  The questions we ponder are whether and how to speak up in the range of contexts in which dramaturgs find themselves related to plays in development and plays in production.

Our host Suzy Fay, Associate Program Director, notes that while the Lark welcomes dramaturgs who are brought in as colleagues of their playwrights in various programs following the playwrights’ request, “We haven’t created a stream for dramaturgs” at the Lark.  In her words “everyone is thinking dramaturgically”.

Co-productions and Regional Development.  The Lark’s Launching New Plays (LNP) program allows several theatres to work together to develop sequential productions of a playwright’s work.  This program explores the idea of a group of theatres committing to a single work, allows for the work and the playwright to grow, facilitates travel for representatives of each theatre to all of the productions, and provides production funds to each theatre.  Suzy notes that this vision allows for the work to be seeded in each community, and the playwright to refine the play as it proceeds through the process.  Later discussion about a change in the New Play Network‘s (NPN) program of rolling premieres from an 18-month to a 12-month period focused on whether this timeline, while perhaps keeping a writer’s attention focused, may limit the writer’s chance to sit with lessons learned prior to implementing changes for the next production.

Shaking Up The Repertoire and Embracing the Regions.  The Lark is committed to providing opportunities for playwrights to see their play “up”.  We discuss the idea of “recreating the road as a developmental process”.   The topics of regional plays, whether New York is inevitably the bar and the goal, and the power of certain regions are energetic and fruitful.  Suzy quotes James Naughton: “one of the most important diversities of a play is its geographic diversity.”

Audience and Community.  The Lark asks of its partner theatres that they have a grounding in their communities. According to Suzy: “We always use the word community instead of box office or audience.”

Being in a Play.  We play with the language and the philosophies in the phrase to “find our way into a play.”  Several of us resonate to the phrase Suzy offers as one she uses with actors in developmental readings: “what was your experience of being in this play”.  We agree that this is a wonderful frame for any post-show discussion with audience members.

Role in the Room.  Fay notes that the Lark in its development programs insists that playwrights have goals.  When there are stated goals staff are “authorized” in a way to comment on whether or not the playwright participant is staying on track.  We return to the themes in David Dower’s essay at the close of our meeting.  What is are the roles of the creative participants in the writing and rehearsal rooms?  What are the relationships and who has the authority to engage?  The questions will always be asked.  And the Lark, after 15 years, is still in the business, in Suzy’s words, of “discovering new voices.”

© Martha Wade Steketee (September 14, 2011)

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