A few weeks ago I hosted a panel at the Dramatists Guild's National Conference in Chicago entitled "Playwrights Creating Opportunities." I was very fortune to joined on stage by four inspired and inspiring fellow playwrights: Jeffrey Sweet, Kate Snodgrass, Brian Quirk and Andie Arthur. And while I do intend to blog about the great things that came out of the panel itself (it was really inspiring!), today I'm focusing on a single phrase:
Every Place is a Theater.
This is an idea that came up in the panel discussion, but it also came up a number of casual conversations; playwrights bemoaning the fact that they live someplace where there just aren't any theaters. I remember one conversation in particular, a woman who said her town had a lot of galleries, because there was a large visual arts community, but no theaters. Without missing a beat I turned to her and asked "what do they do with that space at night?"
The world is crawling with theaters. During the Q&A section of the DG panel, there was a woman who talked about an evening of theater she and some fellow writers put together in a kitchen store. I know of a company that did a series of plays staged in an IKEA!
These opportunities were undoubtedly beneficial to the artists, the audiences and the businesses. There is fun factor (What? I get to go to IKEA after it's closed?!?), the opportunity to bring in people connected with your new space that might otherwise never have known about you, and opportunity for the space to bring in new business too (How can we make our kitchen store fun?), not to mention the opportunity to DO THE WORK and exercise your playwright muscles by interacting with an audience. And if you're a playwright enduring the lonely struggle to be heard, the value of connecting with an audience cannot be underestimated.
You may well be thinking - that's great, but how is this going help me get to New York? Well, you've got a point. I can't draw you a straight line from furniture store theater in Springfield to Broadway... but there is no straight line to Broadway, or to anything else in the theater. There is only what you can do today to practice your craft, it is a muscle that must be continually exercised (even if the world we live in does not seem to feel obliged to provide that opportunity).
And truth be told, if I could dream the American Theater into being whatever I would wish it to be... I'd wish it to be something that was happening every night in Springfield (there's one in every state), in a furniture store or a diner or a doctor's office, and everyone wants to be there because it's where something real and new and unexpected and connected is always happening.
The way I see it, I can continue to chase after the dream of getting my work into that handful of buildings located in a few square blocks in a few large cities, or I can look at every space I walk into as the birthplace of the next great moment in the American Theater.