(Laura Axelrod's note: This is a continuation of my interview with Patrick Gabridge. See? I told you it was long. Check out part one of the discussion, if you missed it. There are eight segments to this interview. A follow-up question comes in the next segment.)
What was the most fun you've ever had in theatre? Tell us about it.
When I was helping start and run the Chameleon Stage theatre company in Denver in the mid 90s, that was awfully fun. Lots of new challenges, as both a writer and producer. But probably the most fun I ever had was working with Rough & Tumble on the production of Pieces of Whitey (back in 2005, at the Boston Center for the Arts). The aspect of theatre that I enjoy the most is getting to be in the room with actors and the director, as we rehearse and make changes and shape a script into a production of something really interesting. With Pieces of Whitey, I worked with Dan Milstein, the director, and Kristin Baker, the producer and one of the actors, for a couple months before we even started rehearsal. Once rehearsal began, I was able to be there almost every day, and felt fully included in the ensemble (I did warm ups and exercises with them, the works). Even as we neared production, I was involved with writing a grant to fund some moderated discussion groups, and fully participated in those, so I had an in-depth sense of how the audience was reacting to the show, both during and after the performances.
Working intensely with such extremely creative people is the kind of experience that keeps me coming back to theatre. Though, unfortunately, I'd say it's also somewhat rare. I'm always looking for ways to get that sort of thing to happen again.
I think the reason I was so anxious to talk to you is because I remembered how you headed up the playwright submission binge. Having quit theater in 2007, I spent the past few years writing in other forms. Over the past year, I started coming back to theater. First as an audience member and then as a writer. But I haven't sent anything out, not for fear of rejection. I guess I'm wondering if theater is worth getting involved with at this point. I've been reading how there is too much theater and too many playwrights. Do you agree with the assessment that there is too much theater, and also, what you would say to someone who is reluctant to send work out?
Hm. Interesting questions.
Is there too much theater? No. Not the kind I want to see, anyway. I'm interested in bold new work, in exciting companies producing plays that totally capture my attention, in the theater and out. I want to see shows about fascinating characters, or plays with gorgeous language, or that just make me say wow. Not so much to ask, is it?
Is theater worth getting involved with, as a writer? That depends. You can't make a living at it. There are way too many playwrights writing plays, just in terms of available slots versus writers with scripts. Way too many very talented playwrights for what's available. Graduate MFA programs keep training more new playwrights. It's much more difficult to get a full-length production now than it was 20 years ago. I'm finding it harder than ever to get my full-length plays produced, even with a growing list of scripts that have been developed (and produced and published) and an ever-widening circle of theater contacts. Companies are much worse at responding to submissions than they used to be--nowadays, I'd say more than 40% of submissions never get any sort of response, not even a rejection. Agents don't seem to be looking for new clients.
On the other hand, if you like to write plays, and doing so is what makes you happy, you might as well write them. And if you write them, you might as well send them out. A play sitting in a drawer is half finished--it has no life until it's up on stage. What's the point of starting and then not following through.
I think about quitting all the time, because the lack of production opportunities for full-length plays is so darn frustrating. I originally switched from screenwriting to playwriting because in writing for film, I couldn't get my work produced, so I couldn't learn the final things I needed to learn. In theatre, I found much more opportunity to see my work staged and, as result, grow as a writer. In the current climate, I'm not exactly sure how true that is anymore. (The rise of YouTube and the internet is changing the equation in regard to reaching an audience with short films.)
But I stay in theater because I like working with theater people. I love being in the room with actors and directors and designers. Or even hanging out after a show or reading. Many of my best friends are theater folk. I like my fellow novelists and screenwriters a lot, but playwrights are really my kind of people. (Which is why I do things like the Binge and sit on the StageSource board, etc.)
Building theater relationships definitely beats sending out scripts blind (more so now than ever). And there's always the option of starting one's own company or self-producing.
Also on the plus side, I'd say it's easier than ever to get short plays produced. There are tons of festivals out there, with lots of different styles and themes.
Interesting. Can you define what you mean by short plays?Fifteen-minute plays and shorter. When I started writing plays, half-hour one-acts were short plays, but I don't think there's much of a market for half-hour one-acts anymore. Ten-minute plays will continue to be popular for a while, because they're simple to stage, and a whole evening of them can often sell well at amateur and semi-pro theatres, because they can use large casts.