Many people think about playwriting as a solitary endeavor. A writer sits alone at a computer and creates a play, before sending it off to various theaters in hopes of obtaining a staged reading or production. The Public Theater created the Emerging Writers Group to provide space for a community of writers to build and share their work in a collective. Now in its third cycle, the EWG gives eleven young playwrights the opportunity to make The Public their creative home for two years. The writers gather at the theater for dinner every other week to read and discuss their work. Any other time they can be found around the office, working on the computers, using the copiers, or meeting with staff members about their plays and for career development advice and assistance. Throughout June, the Public will host the EWG Spotlight Series, a free reading series where each writer presents a new play they have been developing with the group for over a year.
Liz Frankel, the Literary Manager at the Public, runs the EWG program and explains, “The Spotlight Series is effectively a big coming-out party for the writers. This is a time when they will have the opportunity to showcase their work to literary managers, agents, and members of the New York theater community. After spending so much time writing with each other, now is the time when these writers get to go on the radar of the entire industry.”
Current EWG member, Dominique Morisseau, recently reflected, "I never thought I would work so long on a piece, but I see how much my work has grown, given the time and opportunity for trial and error in my writing. It will definitely feel good to get my play in front of other people. To see how the audience responds is a great way to gain a fresh perspective on what works and what doesn’t."
Besides working on their own plays, the writers read and give feedback on each other’s work throughout the year. Through this process, they have developed a personal investment in each other’s work. Current member Laura Marks explains, "I feel like we've been each other's personal trainers throughout this process. The group is clearly passionate about the collective work."
Dominique says, "I really like how we know each other's voice and know how to listen to each other's work. I understand the true unique gifts people have as writers. When you feel like you’ve laid a handprint on someone else's play, it makes it all the more exciting to see their work go up."
Characters in these plays range from Cuban drag queens to lesbian crickets, and settings include Detroit during the Motown craze and contemporary rural Appalachia. Some of these pieces feature life-sized puppets and live musicians. The plays included in the series are almost as diverse as the writers themselves! Jocelyn Prince, the Artistic Associate at the Public, works closely with the EWG writers. She also coordinated 70 script readers and over 350 scripts in running the selection process for the current group. Jocelyn comments, “The plays that were selected stood out as great examples of writing but the playwrights themselves were also very compelling as people. My favorite part of being involved with the EWG is sitting around a table of writers with such wildly different backgrounds as they break bread together and share work that is so personal to who they are, their lives, and their family histories. It’s amazing to watch the relationships that form between the writers, which, as we’ve seen from previous groups, are long lasting. The community building aspect of the EWG is what makes it so special.”
Members of the artistic and administrative staff here at The Public have been planning for months to make sure each reading is a success. One of Liz Frankel’s main tasks in preparing for the Spotlight Series is to match each script and playwright with the perfect director. “I start by thinking if there’re directors who have done similar work or who I feel would get along well with a writer. If a writer has a director they’ve always dreamed of working with or a director with whom they have an established relationship, I also take that into consideration. For the Spotlight Series, we often look for directors whom the writers might not necessarily get a chance to collaborate with at this point in their careers, without The Public reaching out to them.”
Eric Louie, Director of Special Projects, is producing the Spotlight Series. His job is to tackle all the nuts and bolts, coordinating between departments to make sure everything goes smoothly and every writer gets the most out of the experience. For example, he works with the Marketing Department to publicize the readings. He facilitates communication between the Casting Department and the writers, so they stay involved in who’s cast in their plays. He also maintains RSVP lists, making sure anyone with a potential interest in these writers and plays is encouraged to attend.
Eric is also charged with preparing the space, a unique challenge this year. He explains, "Normally we have five operating theaters at the Public, but since we’re in the midst of renovations, their status is constantly changing. Fortunately, sprinkler system installations in the Martinson were moving ahead of schedule, so we are able to hold all of the readings there. The writers were especially happy since it’s the same space we used for An Evening of Excepts from their new plays in April.”
Eric is also planning receptions that will be held on the stage immediately following each reading. He explains., “Not only are the receptions a chance for us to celebrate the writers, but they also create a forum for immediate feedback on their work, as well as a chance for them to network with members of the industry who attend.”
The Spotlight Series is not only a milestone for the EWG writers but a proud moment for everyone here at The Public who has gotten a chance to know this incredible group. We hope you will join us in June to meet these amazing playwrights.
Photo by Zach DeZon.