North Texas playwright Jonathan Norton has started a conversation over at HowlRound, the do-it-yourself theater dialogue-advice-swapping-ongoing-symposia website. He’s posted about the plight of local playwrights, and I know what you’re thinking: Just what we need, another artist going on about why doesn’t anyone produce my work, why can’t I get any media attention, what’s wrong with all you people? Trust me, if that were the case, we wouldn’t be talking about it.
No, actually, what’s interesting about Norton’s post is that his proposed solution(s) to the problem of how do North Texas dramatists get anywhere, even a first leg up somehow, is not More Productions From Local Theaters Now, Especially From You Know Who You Are (The Dallas Theater Center) And Lots of Happy Reviews for Everybody. Nope, Norton recognizes the DTC’s mission is broader than just new plays, and if there’s one slot per season that’s devoted to brand-new plays, his work may be considered against a whole country’s worth of new plays.
Instead, given Will Power’s suggestion — if, god-like, you could make anything happen to better things for local dramatists, what would it be? — Norton sets aside the whole gimme-a-staging-or-two idea in order to consider other possibilities that might help. Like, more dramaturgical support. Or more exposure to professional theater practices through mini-residencies (during which playwrights would attend production meetings, assist with script readings, etc.). Plus, road trips to “new play development hot spots” (the Humana Festival, PlayPenn, New Dramatists, etc.).
Admittedly, his proposals may well be more costly than simply staging a new play or two, but they are also more pragmatic and considered in that they address systemic weaknesses in the whole non-profit theater production line. As Norton points out, the Dallas area has actually been a surprisingly rich though completely erratic source for new playwrights (Beth Henley, Doug Wright, Octavio Solis, Regina Taylor, he neglects Preston Jones and D. L. Coburn). So we’ve got that legacy (although, of course, as with most of our talented actors and designers, most of these people promptly moved elsewhere.)
But consider: We got all those writers without even consciously doing much. What, Norton asks, could the theater community do if it actually put some thought and resources into it?
You can offer some of your thoughts/responses at HowlRound.