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Playwrights on Playwrights; or, Bring the Bloomsbury

Sunday, April 18, 2010 Leave a Comment

David Cote's recently raised the excellent question of why playwrights don't review playwrights in a post for the Guardian. Then my colleague Rob Weinert-Kendt expanded the conversation over on the TCG blog, and J. Holtham added some quality cents at 99 Seats.

At around the same time, I was finishing a biography on my constant obsession Virginia Woolf, and was thinking of the Bloomsbury Group in relation to this question of artists reviewing artists. All of the pitfalls out lined in the three posts above were a huge part of the Bloomsbury group - their reviews of each others work, both public and private, were a source of pain and long simmering grudges for all involved.

They also were an essential part of each others processes, and a source of delight and mutual passion. Their connections went beyond reviewing each other, from informally sharing new work over tea to publishing each others work to writing their posthumous biographies (and of course, drinking and sleeping together). And I thought to myself, "Oh, so like Flux Sundays".

And so we are picking up the gauntlet thrown down by the posts above. Flux will be hosting a series of playwrights reviewing each others work, with some twists. Here's how it will work:

  • A playwright to review will be selected.
  • 3-6 playwrights, and or/other theatre artists, will read at least 5 plays from the selected playwright.
  • The readers will then review the playwright's body of work, contextualizing each play within the whole, looking at what makes that playwright's work unique.
  • While constructive criticism is welcome, we're interested in readers identifying what the playwright is doing and describing how, rather than telling the playwright what they should be doing.
  • These curated critical essays of the playwright's work will be posted on the blog, but we will also actively encourage and link to other readers' participation, i.e., all are welcome.

Over time, we hope to build a forum of critical thought that will illuminate the body of work of participating playwrights; to not only know each other better, but help each other become better; and to invite all readers to a deeper, more sustained relationship with the plays.

Who's up first? We're beginning with two playwrights beloved by the Flux community: Johnna Adams and Adam Szymkowicz.

I can't think of two better playwrights to begin with: Johnna, with her dizzyingly wide aesthetic range (From Rattlers to Lickspittles); and Adam, who has himself given back so much to the playwriting community with his series of interviews.

Want in? Here's how it works: if you'd like to be one of our critical essayists, please write me at gus@fluxtheatre.org, and give me a sense of why you'd be good fit. Let me know if you'd like to read Johnna's work, Adam's, or both. We're looking especially for playwrights to participate, but all are welcome. I'll then send you the plays to read.

And if you're a playwright who'd like to have your work reviewed in this way, please let me know. We'll be focusing first on playwrights already connected to the Flux community, but will hopefully expand as time goes on, perhaps linking it to the Homing Project (yes, that is not forgotten!)

So...are you in? Are you ready to bring the Bloomsbury?


  • Anonymous said:  


    Question: The reviewing is strictly text-, not performance-, based?

    (And I share your Woolf obsession.)

  • August Schulenburg said:  


    I think bringing performance into this is essential, especially as most playwrights' work reveals itself fully only in performance.

    But, I wanted the reviews to start from a place of knowing a body of work, and talking about single plays from within that context.

    Virginia Woolf's quote about the haphazard shooting gallery quality of most criticism really sticks with me - very little contemporary criticism goes beyond simple pan/rave/plot description into the kind of detailed response that does the work justice. I'm interested in a community that engages in a deeper, more sustained way.

    By the way, I liked your response to Sheila's Lascivious Something - the way you brought in your previous experience with her work, narratives of films with similar subject matter, and the larger points of inquiry you're exploring on Drama, Daily. This is the kind of long form criticism that takes a wider angle that interests me now - I'd love to see how coming across more of Sheila's work, especially That Pretty, Pretty, would inform your thoughts.

    Please email me if you're interested in participating -we'd be lucky to have you.

    Also, my apologies for missing your similar post on this subject - your thoughts on neither nice nor snarky representing honest critical thought are right on - let's hear it for critic advocates!

  • Anonymous said:  


    I'd love to participate. I agree that reviewing a playwright's body of work, or a single play within this context rather, is not just valuable but crucial. At the risk of being a bit gloomy, too often such an endeavor takes place only after the artist has, well, died.

    Also, I appreciate your comments about my review of Lascivious Something. Your sense of what I was aiming to do is accurate--situate my analysis within a broader, but relevant, landscape. That Pretty Pretty is on my 'to read' list.