Expanding the Idea of New Work: Part III

by:  Lisa Timmel at 04/30/2010

Thanks for your thoughts, Charles. You pose some interesting questions. One question in particular really struck me: “Who are we as a theatre that sits between the two [new plays and classics]?” I think we’re always answering that question when we make programming choices. Because we can’t just program the same plays over and over, in a sense, who we are changes from play to play, from season to season. This year we were a theatre that produces American plays from the 20th and 21st centuries. The oldest play in the season was a mere 63 years old.

So if we are what we do let’s define some terms. We tend to think of plays in three main categories: Classic, contemporary and new. Since my entire career until last year was spent working off-Broadway, largely in new play development and production, I personally tend to have a very narrow definition of what constitutes a new play (I know, I know... this series of posts is about expanding the idea of new work. Bad blogger!). If a play comes with impressive quotes from a major newspaper in a major city, then it’s an established, contemporary play. When I first started out in New York, back in what my kids like to call “the nineteen hundreds”, new plays felt like they only moved in one direction: from New York to the regionals. Happily, this isn’t so much the case anymore partly because regional theatres started commissioning and producing world premieres. We now have a kind of non-profit road system for developing and promoting new work.

That said I’ve never worked for a theatre that produced an entire season of world premieres. For one thing, it often takes a production or two for the play to reach its final draft. Even ten years later, Craig Lucas rewrote parts of Prelude to a Kiss. So “new play” has to be a somewhat elastic term in that it can mean a world premiere or the latest fashion coming out of another major theatre city. Why deprive a Boston audience of a really great play just because someone else got there first? It’s also a way of participating in a national cultural conversation.

For me, contemporary plays have been knocking around a bit but are not established classics yet. Sometimes we call them revivals. I would probably have put Stick Fly and Becky Shaw in that category — definitely post-Boston if not before — and obviously Prelude to a Kiss. But how to categorize Fences, a play that is not much older than Prelude? Well, some plays are just instant classics and Wilson’s play, a play that is part of every decent American drama curriculum and revived in several cities every year qualifies. Then there are the capital C classics. Did you learn about it in school? Then it’s probably a classic. Functionally a classic play should in some way bring us back to our cultural heritage.

In the season we’re about to start, as of now it’s more of a mixed bag than last with a stronger emphasis on new plays but a wider range of tone and content. We have two world premieres, two new/contemporary plays, one contemporary play (1980), and two bonafide capital C classics. So who are we now?


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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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