1935 image looking south from Madison Avenue and the mid 50s.

My travels this year were limited compared to travel in prior years: several days in Washington DC (where i lived in the late ’90s and early 2000s), ATCA-related trips to Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Chicago, and a meeting in New York City (my new hometown) which I co-planned with two colleagues. I spent vastly more time in administrative tasks as chair of two theater organizations than I expected to, which was balanced by the experience i gained in leadership while working with some great colleagues. I wrote less than I committed to write but found some new outlets. I continue to pare, sift, and sort of involvement on professional boards and continuing projects.

I continued my service on the executive committee of the American Theatre Critics Association by taking on the job of Executive Committee Chair in July of this year of many organizational transitions, and continued as a judge for the Henry Hewes Design Awards, and chair of the Drama Desk nominating committee for the 2019-2020 season.

Primarily due to my Drama Desk obligations, I was privileged (and subsidized) to spend hundreds of nights and afternoons in theaters of all kinds. I have now posted nine annual “what Martha has seen” marathon lists of theater and film adventuring (20112012201320142015201620172018, 2019). The 2019 calendar year rough tallies: 300 ticketed and staged theatrical productions, 20 or so cabaret performances or panel discussions (smaller scale adventures), and too few film screenings.

The glut of input has effects, salutary and detrimental, on production of my own original work. My challenge again in 2020 is to balance it all.

Publication Themes and Outlets.

I wrote theater-focused essays and reviews for several outlets including The Clyde Fitch ReportContemporary Theatre Review, Dramatics, Quill Magazine, and Theater Pizzazz. I focused again this year on exciting personalities, women in theater, plays in development, aspects of design, and reviews of current productions in New York and in several cities around the country.

Playwright and teacher María Irene Fornés passed away in October 2018 and was the inspiration for a number of events and articles that year (screenings of Michelle Memran’s beautiful film about Irene and their friendship, The Rest I make Up, at MOMA in February and Augustinterview with Memran about the film for HowlRoundwrote about the August 2018 Fornes marathon for The Clyde Fitch Report, her election to the election of Fornés to the Theatre Hall of Fame, and a Fornés commemorative page for the League of Professional Theatre Women’s web site). I continued my commitment to this legacy with an interview with Memran and her editor “Fornés Documentary The Rest I Make Up Director and Editor Discuss their Artistic Marriage” published in 2019 in Contemporary Theatre Review.

The fifth edition in the Women Count report series, which reports Off-Broadway theater hiring patters for women playwrights, directors, designers, and stage managers, will cover seasons through 2018-2019, and the sixth edition, to cover thorough the 2019-2020 theater season, will be published in 2020. I have authored all editions of the report series, supported by the data collection assistance of collaborator Judith Binus. The first four editions were published by the League of Professional Theatre Women. All editions are available here. This reports will be promoted in a multi-data collection collaborative publication scheme being planned and yet to be announced.

Panels and Public Conversations.

I moderated and participated in professional panels and public conversations throughout the year.

I hosted a post-show conversation for my friend Cesi Davidson’s continuing monthly new play series at the George Bruce Branch of the New York Public Library in Harlem: “School Girl Crush” by Jeannine Foster McKelvia in May.

The Working Theater’s Tricia Patrick developed a panel in June on “Women in Entertainment” after a performance of Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson. I discussed findings from the Women Count data reports and appeared with Becca Stoll, Megan Kingery, and Nandita Shenoy.

I again offered opinions theatrical in a moderated conversation with Jeffrey Sweet in June about 2018-2019 Tony Awards at the Coffee House Club.

Dramaturgy for Stage and Screen, Play Reading, and Play Development.

I dramaturged, assisted, and encouraged (for pay and pleasure) a number of playwrights and writers working on a range of projects during the year — plays and musicals and books in development. I also read scores of play scripts submitted to competitions (Harvardwood and the ATCA Steinberg and Osborn prizes) and play development programs (PlayPenn and O’Neill National Playwrights Conference).

And I worked in a new area that I hope to continue to explore: dramaturgy in film and television. I served as the researcher for the writers room developing a Netflix property based on the Steven Gaines 1991 biography Simply Halston about Roy Halston Frowick, the designer Halston. Halston has one of the mid-20th century’s more fascinating life stories — covering corporate mergers, pop culture, self-made lives, and the excess that brought it all to an end for him in 1990. This was a fascinating way to spend 4-5 months at the end of 2019. Playwright colleague Sharr White, who I met during my years as an editor of Chance Magazine and a 2012 photo shoot at Yonkers’ Alder Manor, brought me into the project. And in a full-circle detail that almost defies credulity, that same Alder Manor location used for the 2012 Chance Magazine photo shoot where I met my Netflix project employer might be used in as a location in the series to represent Versailles for a key event in Halston’s life (involving Kay Thompson, Liza Minnelli, the Halstonettes, and many other designers): “Le Grand Divertissement a Versailles” on November 28, 1973.

Here’s hoping for loads of viewing, scheming, talking, and writing about it all in 2020.

© Martha Wade Steketee (December 31, 2019)

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