Huntington Shakes Up Playwriting Fellows Program

by:  Lisa Timmel at 09/30/2009

The Huntington Theatre Company is accepting applications for its Huntington Playwriting Fellows program.  Go here for more information.

Here’s the short version why:

Literary Department Goals, 2009-2010:
1. Create a more transparent process for becoming a fellow
2. Streamline submission process
3. Create a more sustainable community of HPF writers

Here’s the long version why:

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

My first real job was at Playwrights Horizons, a theater that accepts unsolicited manuscripts.   At the time, the literary office was the size of a very small walk-in closet.  It housed then literary manager, Tim Sanford, me, one pc, an electric typewriter, about ten years of archives looming on shelves that reached the ceiling, an index card filing system, and at any given time, 800 manuscripts vying for 3 to 5 production slots.  The math is dispiriting, no?

The first two lessons I had to learn were how to be open to a diverse range of voices and the innate value of getting to know a writer by simply reading their work.  Then I learned that the supply of good plays far exceeds the demand. And finally, that good writing alone is usually not enough to get a production.  Producing a new play based only on the script is a little like giving someone a 5-carat engagement ring after the first date.  

The Huntington accepts unsolicited manuscripts from local writers because we are committed to being a well-rounded company that produces the best work of international, national and local artists.  But even in the much smaller market of Boston, the supply of good plays by local writers far exceeds our capacity. When I got here, I set about trying to figure out what it takes for a local writer to get produced by the Huntington.  It didn’t take much analysis: all our produced local writers have been Huntington Playwriting Fellows.

Applying what I learned all those years ago on 42nd street, that there needs to be a real, working relationship between a writer and a theatre before committing to a production, I realized that local writers need to be encouraged to become Fellows rather than encouraged to submit for production. Traditionally, Fellows were chosen at the discretion of the literary manager.  This wasn’t going to work for me since my knowledge of the local scene is, at this point, pretty thin and, as a process, it lacks transparency.  How was I to know who even wanted to be a Fellow? So, an application process was born.

This process forced me to spend time thinking about what I care about and what kind of theatre I want the Huntington to be, at least the 30 square feet of it that I control.  I am not, temperamentally, a fan of big arts institutions.  They can be remote from the community that they are trying to serve.  What I love about working at the Huntington is the many ways we are trying to chip away at that distance between the institution and the people.  An artist needs a platform, and a platform needs steps.  You do your best work, and we’ll do our best to find room on the step for you.


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Lisa Timmel,  Bevin O'Gara, and Charles Haugland share their thoughts on New Plays, Dramatury, and their experience sharing nightly conversations with the audiences that come to see our shows. Get the inside scoop of new scripts and play development!

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