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The Homing Project

Friday, January 29, 2010 Leave a Comment

Homing - the ability of certain animals to return to a given place when displaced from it.

The Homing Project is the proposed name for the project described in this post, A Simple Plan.

Here's how we got here:
Recently, books and reports like Outrageous Fortune, The Gates of Opportunity, The Sands Report, NEA's Public Participation In The Arts Report, combined with movements like 50/50 by 2020, convenings like Arena's New Play Institute, and the conversations of the blogosphere have led me to hope that we are at a singular moment of change in new play development.

To aggregate the many issues facing new play development into overarching themes:
- There is a shrinking audience for new plays.
- There is a divide between institutions and playwrights.
- Female playwrights, and playwrights of color, are underrepresented on our stages.
- Great plays are not being written because good plays are being developed instead of produced.
- Overly influential playwriting tracks at elite MFAs may be creating educational inequity.
- Royalties do not provide enough income for playwrights to live.
- Playwrights no longer feel as if they have homes.

That last issue may be the root of them all: the most local of narrative arts has lost it's sense of home. Theatre has lost its place in our culture because it has lost its sense of place. There is no "there" there.

Here's where are now:
I'm proposing a project to change that. For right now, I'm calling it The Homing Project, and I'm hoping to apply to the Pepsi Refresh Project to get started.

The idea is simple, if a little crazy. RVC Bard rightly wondered if I'd taken my meds.

The Homing Project is a creative stimulus package that imagines a critical mass of the 4,000+ producing theatre organizations each producing 3 plays from a unique playwright over 3-5 years time.

In other words, this project believes we can work together as a field in an intentional way to create meaningful artistic homes for playwrights.
It believes that by doing so, we can shorten the divide between theatre leaders and playwrights.
It believes that while doing so, we can equitably represent the diversity of our field.
It believes by doing so, we will help good playwrights write great plays by actually seeing their work produced.
It believes these great plays will be more likely to connect with an audience the playwright knows from a sustained relationship over time.
And, it hopes that these great plays, through connecting to a specific audience, deepening the playwright/insitution relationships, and equitably representing the diversity of our country, will lead to an increased hunger for new plays and a more sustainable living for playwrights.

I don't believe that the new play machinery of our country is so impossibly divided and complex that it can't collaborate intentionally on a project of this size. All it will take is leadership from a few playwrights and organizations to get the ball rolling.

Here's how it might work:
A robust online platform that plays matchmaker between playwrights and theatres must be created. The playwrights would create a profile that would use a range of aesthetic tags to place their work into a searchable context. While that may sound like a rough tool, Pandora has shown it can be sensitive enough to work.

So a participating theatre would then enter the kind of work their mission supports and be given a list of possible matches. Playwrights would have a series of page samples available online. If the theatre liked what they read, they could contact the playwright or agent for a full script.

Theatres, isn't that better than all those playwrights sending you plays your mission could never support? Playwrights, isn't that better then the current process of mystery and secrecy?

Once a theatre finds some playwrights they like, the courting process begins, until a deadline arrives where every theatre must have chosen their unique playwright. And then, over the next 3 to 5 years, that theatre produces 3 plays from that playwright.

It sound daunting, but all we're asking is 1 play a season for this project. You can still produce A Christmas Carol and A Comedy of Errors. And if you didn't get the playwright you wanted most, produce her work, too. You just need to commit to creating a home for 1 unique voice for a short 3-5 years.

Do you want to reach 50/50 in 2020? What better way than a nation wide collaboration where you can see in real time the gender breakdown of participating playwrights. And if you don't like what you see, let that inform your choice.

Do you want to see more opportunities for playwrights of color? Now you can create them, and see who else is doing it too, and find ways to collaborate and build new audiences together.

Do you want to see greater geographic diversity? Start a petition for your local college to produce a local playwright, and then find that playwright in the online database.

Playwrights, you don't want your work produced by that community theatre that's fallen in love with you? That's fine. But maybe you're passing up an audience that, over 3 years time, would become devoted to your work. Why not say yes? It doesn't mean you can't have other plays produced elsewhere.

Where it takes us:
So let's say 1/10th of our 4,000+ potential partners sign on. In 3-5 years time, 400 playwrights will have written 1,200 new plays in a sustained partnership with unique institutions in unique communities.

Maybe some of those partnerships will last, and playwrights will move home to be supported by the communities they left for New York.

Maybe we reach 50/50 in 2015.

Maybe we break through all the good plays and start making some great ones.

Maybe our capacity to collaborate on a project local in impact and national in scope allows us to raise our profile in this country, and become more essential to our culture.

And then maybe we do it again, and this time 1/2 of the 4,000 partners join us, and 2,000 playwrights have a home that leads to 6,000 new plays written for specific communities.

And then maybe we don't need to do it again, because we can't imagine ever going back to a way of making theatre where audiences, artists, and institutions treat each other like strangers. We don't need to do it again, because we've actually created artistic homes.

What do you think? I'll be posting the 1st step I think we can take shortly.

9 comments »

  • lucia said:  

    This sounds wonderful, inspiring! (And if for any possible reason, the project actually needs information on homing in animals - of course, I was struck by the name! - please sign me up as your gratis scientific advisor!)

  • CultureFuture said:  

    My company, Organs of State, is excited! We're looking forward to seeing more.

  • RVCBard said:  

    Let me know when you get started. I'd prefer a NYC production because it's local, but I'd do Richmond, VA too.

    Can I bring my other LGBTQ playwrights of color with me?

  • David Dower said:  

    Ready. I've made a more cogent response over at the New Play Blog, Gus. http://npdp.arenastage.org

  • August Schulenburg said:  

    Lucia,

    I love the idea of working in info on homing in animals - if nothing else, it could deepen the metaphorical framework.

    Culture Future,

    Great! I love your work on the blog and was really impressed by Organs of State's website - I'll definitely try to see Hamlet. Do you already have that kind of relationship with a playwright? I also think that ensemble-devised work would count as providing an Artistic Home.

    RVC Bard,

    I think the 1st step is finding the companies who are already doing it. Step 2 is identifying the companies and playwrights who are into the idea. Step 3 is the hard part - creating the online infrastructure to serve as matchmaker. But, I think a lot of work can happen before step 3. And bring your playwrights! I'm looking forward to learning more about your group, and may be able to help out with space - feel free to email me directly at gus@fluxtheatre.org if you want to talk potential collaboration.

    David,
    I'm on my way over to your place right now:)

  • Anonymous said:  

    Lovely idea. I hope you will include playwrights and theaters devoted to work for young audiences.

  • joshcon80 said:  

    My company, The Management, has been looking for another resident playwright (besides me.) We even have our own space and do two shows a year, so the other writer would have the Spring, say, and I'd have the Fall. We've been looking for a writer through the normal channels (word of mouth) but this works too.

  • Rob said:  

    A great idea. A great name. Keep going, Gus!

  • Christine Evans said:  

    Really great idea, Gus. I'm going to talk to my local theatre (Perishable in Providence, RI) about it, and a bunch of other places besides.