Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On being a playwright at his 6th AJT conference

By Rich Orloff

During the playwrights’ lunch at this year’s AJT conference, one of the playwrights said to the group, “Let’s be honest. The main reason we’re here is to sell our plays.” It was a brave comment, as artists aren’t supposed to admit such things in public. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, at least for me, the comment wasn’t true.

Don’t get me wrong: I’d like every Jewish theater in the world to produce my Jewish-themed plays, and I wouldn’t complain if they decided to also produce my non-Jewish-themed plays as well as my e-mail messages and my shopping list. I’m delighted that several AJT theaters have decided to produce my comedy OY! over the last few years, which I doubt would have happened if I hadn’t become an AJT member.

However, the main reason I continue to attend the AJT conferences is simply that I’ve gained enormous affection and appreciation for its members. Playwrights don’t often get to hang out with artistic directors; they and we have different agendas. Because of the AJT conferences, I’ve gotten to know several artistic directors not only as people with the power to produce my plays, but also simply as people.

My favorite event at each year’s conference is when the artistic directors sit in a circle and talk about their previous and upcoming seasons. I’ve not only learn their tastes, but I’ve also learned the myriad of factors which influence their decisions: the size and composition of their audiences, the pressures from their boards, their financial concerns, and their limited resources.

It’s not just an intellectual education, either. One can hear in their voices the pleasures of their artistic triumphs and their frustrations at the gap between their dreams and the realities. Given all their pressures, I’ve grown to appreciate whenever an AJT theater produces a play by “Rich Who?”

For the last three conferences, I’ve moderated the Playwrights Forum. I’ve had a chance to listen to excerpts from almost fifty Jewish-themed plays: about Israel, the Holocaust, our heritage and contemporary concerns. I’ve been entertained, engaged and moved. I’ve also been bored, lectured to, yelled at, and confused. Each forum has given me a greater sense of what I want to accomplish as a playwright and how best I can serve our community.

Because this year’s conference was in New York, an unprecedented number of playwrights gave talks or appeared on panels. I got a peek inside the minds of Murray Schisgal, Israel Horowitz, Donald Margulies, Jeffrey Sweet, Itamar Moses and Rachel Shukert. (That’s over 150 years of playwriting experience.) Informal conversations with other AJT playwright members gave me a greater sense of what made them tick and provided opportunities to both kvell about our accomplishments and kvetch about our frustrations. (Okay, so we kvetched more than we kvelled. It goes with being a playwright.)

The education I’ve received as an AJT playwright member has served me not only in marketing my plays to Jewish theaters but also in how I deal with artistic directors and theaters of all kinds. Also, I think the organization is simply haimish. I’m already looking forward to what I’ll learn and what fun I’ll have at the next conference.

I’ll also bring along a few copies of my plays, just in case someone’s interested.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks to everyone at AJT and sponsors for giving us a chance to come together as a communnity, share deeply felt struggles and dreams and transform them into theater that reaches out and touches many. I will never forget the incredible joy of working as a playwright in residence at the theater in the 14th Street Y in New York with Ed Cohen and Ron Avni. Local residents from the neighborhood were regulars at productions, re-creating the neighborhood I grew up in. They would call out when something in the play moved them, chastise us during intermissions and sob during painful moments. I was returned to my years growing up in Brookly, back on the block and yet able to do it differently this time. And share the beauty of it as well.

    Happy holidays to all,
    Brenda Shoshanna