Thursday, September 16, 2010

September 2010-John Clinton Eisner, Lark Producing Director


By John Clinton Eisner

At our annual season launch potluck event this week, we talked about home and community. This subject is on our minds right now partly because the Lark is moving to a new and improved space in December. The design process for this real estate project has engaged us in many exciting conversations with artists and other stakeholders as we’ve explored the best means for meeting the needs of a growing constituency and an evolving role in the theater field as a proponent of new and unheard voices. One of the most rewarding outcomes, as far as I am concerned, is the reaffirmation that the Lark’s core values are safe in the hands of our community. In discussing subjects ranging from the electrical system to floor coverings, committee participants have never become distracted by the smoke and mirrors of architectural possibility but have focused like a laser beam on our mission and vision.

It is enough to make my eyes well up with tears to hear a roomful of people deeply concerned about the disadvantages of having a “fancy lobby” because it might unreasonably raise the expectations of an audience about to see a work in process. I remember a member of one group grumbling, “I think people should just arrive at the Lark, not at some shiny lobby.” Naturally, these brainstorming sessions have informed the planning and design for the new space; but this processing time has also renewed our consciousness of the values that have shaped us and made us who we are. In this moment of transition, as we move to a new and better home, our community has reasserted its commitments to the ideals of free expression, self-determination, collaboration, inclusiveness, innovation, respect, trust, and joy in the creative process. I had been worried that a real estate project might distract us from our goals, but it turns out that our ranks are full of watchdogs and whistle blowers who keep us true to ourselves.

Our space planning sessions have inspired us to reinvest in our community. As we’ve grown—as more artists come to us with new challenges and as we have taken on broader responsibility for facilitating a range of collaborations—we’ve simply run out of room for people to “drop by.” Once upon a time, Lark community members could simply show up to read a script, wait for their next appointment, or meet a friend, but then our institution grew to a point where all the extra space was needed for programs and to squeeze workstations for staff and interns. The idea that we will have community space again when we move is critical to our mission of connecting to our neighborhood as well as to artists from around the world for whom the Lark has become an important destination.

In addition to building a physical home where our community can gather to plan and work, our commitment to reinvesting in our community this year manifests itself in a variety of related strategic priorities:

We support artists as agents of change in the world through an enhanced staff that now reflects our program structure. Simply put, we have put a qualified staff member in charge of three core areas of Lark activity: Andrea Heibler was promoted to the position of Artistic and Literary Coordinator, in charge of “Scouting and Assessment;” May Adrales has moved from a two-year prestigious TCG New Generations Future Leaders Fellowship at the Lark to her new position of Onsite Program Director; and Lisa Rothe joined us most recently, this past winter, as Director of Offsite Programs and Partnerships, overseeing international exchange, our Mellon-funded collaboration initiative called “Launching New Plays Into the Repertoire,” our university partnerships and more.

In addition, we consider our fundraising mandate unique in the field in that our development department is not only charged with seeking operating funds for the organization but fellowships and stipends that allow artists the time they need to do their work. We have a strategic interest in growing our fundraising staff and its professional skills in order to meet the twin challenges of securing long-term financial stability for the organization while providing direct services to artists seeking creative freedom. Financial stability means a broader base of donors, a growing board, wider recognition in society, a healthy reserve fund, and an “opportunity” fund that allows us to invest, as one of the nation’s leading “think tanks for the theater,” in new voices and underrepresented communities. Success will also mean raising the bar for artists economically and setting an example in our culture for the value of artists’ work. That is one of the reasons that our four year-old Playwrights’ of New York Fellowship is so important to us and to the field at large.

We are also committed to facilitating collaborations and partnerships locally, nationally and globally through our Mellon-funded collaboration program that aims to advance new work from the Lark to multiple productions as well as through partnerships with theaters and universities. For instance, we have created a Playwriting Camp in Transylvania with a university partner in Romania as part of a brand new graduate writing program that allows emerging writers in post-communist Europe to gain skills while creating translations of works by U.S. writers that are being produced over there. Similar Lark initiatives are taking place with partners throughout the U.S. and in countries like Mexico, Colombia, Russia, the Philippines and the Netherlands. The fact that all three Pulitzer finalists last year wrote their “breakaway” plays at the Lark is connected to the idea that most plays—and playwrights—will succeed as a result of multiple productions and multiple “homes.”

We believe that audiences are as much a part of the creative process as they are the market for the ultimate “product.” Our focus is on deepening relationships between artists and audience members within the context of the development process. Audiences that understand and appreciate the growth of unique works of art become the best champions and sponsors of new work in a free society. In fact, like public education and public health, the idea of public culture relies on the everyday participation of ordinary citizens in the creation of work that engages them in meaningful civic dialogue. We explore this relationship with audiences both on site at the Lark—in every program that we offer (even at roundtables where the audience may only be comprise of two or three people)—and offsite on college campuses and in regional theaters where we assess the evolution of each play at the same time as we examine its relationship to each unique community.

Of all our strategic priorities, it is the area of access, inclusiveness, and diversity that is most important to the Lark’s identity, to the space we are creating now, and to our future. In a world that has become entirely interconnected through financial systems, the media, migration and the environment, to name just a few factors, it is the Lark’s primary mission to listen for new voices, to help fragile ideas come to light, to support the recombination of stories and cultures to reflect new manifestations of society, and to bring people together in peace around the stories that convey their values and heritage. While I am proud that several of the plays that have been nurtured at the Lark recently are moving to Broadway in the near future, bringing diverse stories to a mainstream audience, it is really in the Petri dish of “what if” and “I’ve got a crazy idea” that the real work of the Lark is accomplished.

Over the summer, I read John Carey’s book What Good Are the Arts? This book, by a noted English cultural critic, stirred up significant controversy when it was published in 2005. After the book came out, Carey noted that its most contentious passage was his definition of a work of art as “anything that anyone has ever considered a work of art, though it may be a work of art for only that one person.” He elaborated further, “The reasons for considering anything a work of art will be as various as the variety of human beings.” The difficulty, as Carey sees it, is “to find convincing arguments with which to oppose someone whose idea of a work of art differs from your own.”

It is Lark’s job to make space for madmen and madwomen who push to open up the boundaries of our world and make room for change that is needed. The change for which we prepare will be the outcome of our investment in individuals, their idiosyncratic voices, and a community that is nimble enough to amplify their creative visions in life as well as art.

Friday, July 23, 2010

June/August 2010 – John Clinton Eisner, Lark Producing Director


By John Clinton Eisner

The world is becoming more interconnected every day, adding new complexity to our lives which we may choose to ignore or to accept as a challenge that will make us stronger. These changes are happening in media, technology, manufacturing, banking, farming, environmental science and energy production, and many other fields. Fueled by the global economic downturn, I’ve observed that activism is increasing and communities seem to be organizing themselves to collectively address shared problems. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has certainly raised new questions about government and corporate accountability, and this man-made disaster has forced huge adjustments in people’s lives, impacting the global economy and our assumptions that interest groups take time to seriously consider the long term consequences of their actions. Articles such as Time Magazine’s “The Global Warming Survival Guide” (on the web at,29569,1602354,00.html) are increasingly pervasive and demonstrate a renewed interest among individuals in making a difference on a personal level.

Obviously, there are many constructive strategies for pursuing a sustainable and peaceful future in a global society, and the internet has helped to make us aware of a vast array of ideas and initiatives taking place as part of an unstoppable wave of global innovation which will affect our lives in ways we can only begin to predict. With so many people organizing around so many issues, however, the root challenge, as far as I can tell, is how effectively people will talk and listen to one another. What does it take for us to receive information and to process new ideas in the midst of crisis? How will we do this in a globalized environment that involves many languages and cultural differences?

Culture and the arts are critical to this function, not simply for the outcomes that delight and inspire us but also for the creative process that the arts ignite in artists and audiences. Art—and theater in particular—is where we play out the consequences of our choices and where we learn to understand others. To feel for them as we feel for ourselves. It is the rehearsal hall for life. I don’t think that much change in the world will be possible, at least without violence, if we don’t focus on developing honest communication that builds trust, quality education that leads to intercultural respect, and a capacity for imagining ourselves in other people’s shoes.

I work at the Lark Play Development Center, where we help talented theater artists write and advance new plays for the theater. But, for me, our real purpose is to organize people—artists and citizens alike—into laboratory groups to learn how to collaborate. If our society is attempting to imagine the world in new ways, can we learn to take advantage of the creative process that artists have always known in inventing worlds of their own, and the laws that guide them? In the face of so much global misunderstanding, can we use the arts as a way to invent a vocabulary with which we can describe our versions of a desirable future to one another and find ways of playing them out?

One of my most significant discoveries over the past ten years is that the experience of art is only partially contained in its performance. The truth is that the intersections between artist and audience are often fleeting and arbitrary, sometimes awakening the mind and senses but just as often resulting in disappointment. This experience is very much like any relationship I’ve ever known that is complex and rich and requires passion and commitment. These relationships are remembered as a series of important moments—performances, if you will—and, whether these moments denote admirable or despicable behavior, they live in our memories and tend to outshine the spaces in between. We hold onto the narrative of our lives by celebrating these moments at parties and documenting them with photos and clippings.

But if I shift my perspective a bit, I observe that the space between the milestones is real, too. The experience of preparing to do my best, calling upon inner resources, growing in my capabilities, and learning how to collaborate with new and different people is what I do daily. It is what many of us do daily, whether we work in the theater or in another field. It is where creativity really matters, certainly as much as it does onstage under the lights. This is true of the surgeon, whose skill seems to be tested in surgery but is actually only the outcome of a lifetime of personal and professional development. Performance, while important, is only a small corner of a tapestry woven out of human creative experience. Performance as an end unto itself is, I believe, a selfish act of showing off, like an unwanted child who is forced by his constrained environment and the selfishness of others to demand the attention he has been denied. On the other hand, performance as a moment in a continuum along the process of discovery is a way to include others and to grow.

I feel this personal conviction about the importance of creative environments more than ever right now. I am flying home to New York City from my most recent visit to Transylvania. My 14 year-old daughter Hannah is traveling with me, and we are exhausted and elated at what we’ve learned about ourselves during our 11-day journey in Romania. Hannah joined me, along with a delegation of Lark playwrights—Michael Bradford, Brian Dykstra and Saviana Stanescu—to work with artists and students in the city of Targu Mures where the population of 150,000 is roughly half Hungarian and half Romanian with a few other ethnicities and languages thrown in. We worked with a dozen students who had translated plays by Michael and Saviana into both languages. Brian led a hip-hop workshop as part of his process of developing a new play in that style. We led multilingual playwriting workshops with Master Degree playwrights at the Theater University at Targu Mures. Hannah took video footage of discussion and dialogue, frequently punctuated by laughter and occasionally witnessing moments of true epiphany. Hannah also took an afternoon off to bake cookies with one of her new friends, the daughter of the university’s director. If anything was understood by all participants by the time this convening was over, it was something about the difference between a “teaching environment” and a “learning laboratory."

These two paradigms are distinct from one another, and they define something that is at the core of my own beliefs and my faith in humanity. An environment created by respect and trust, in which every participant expects to learn something new, is the most effective crucible for change because it fuels confidence and creativity. The gentle and appreciative inquiry of a learning laboratory, in which the creator is viewed as the expert and not the student, is, ultimately, far more rigorous and effective than more rigid forms of teaching that don't take into account that what we expect of the next generation is to take responsibility for the world in which we live. This fact is obvious when you consider how much better we are able to hear other people, and to be heard, when sharing is the primary goal.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

June 2010 – Jordan Seavey and Tommy Smith: Defining Success as Journey


This blog focuses on what our community members at the Lark Play Development Center have to say about where we’re headed as a society and the tools we’ll need to get there. Each month, we invite guest essayists to share their perspectives on the role of live theater in the twenty-first century and what the field has to offer society as a whole.

Our guest essayists this month are Jordan Seavey and Tommy Smith. Jordan’s CHILDREN AT PLAY was included in Lark’s Playwrights’ Week in fall 2007 and subsequently produced by CollaborationTown, a New York City theater ensemble co-founded in 2003 by Jordan ( He is an imaginative and prolific playwright and theater maker who recently joined the Emerging Writers Group at the Public Theater. Tommy was recently named the recipient of Lark’s fourth annual Playwrights of New York (”PONY”) Fellowship (, He, too, is prolific and has taken an active role in producing and promoting his own work throughout his career. He is a graduate of The Juilliard School’s Playwriting Program, a recipient of the 2008 E.S.T. Sloan Grant, and the 2008 Page73 Playwriting Fellow.

Both playwrights are “on the rise.” They have fought hard to create their own opportunities whenever and wherever possible. Writers like Jordan and Tommy cannot truthfully be characterized as “emerging”—they have accumulated impressive bodies of work and have an abundance of good stories to share about their lives in the theater—but they still struggle for financial resources and to find an audience. This is a topic I have discussed frequently with Matthew Paul Olmos, my co-worker at the Lark and our Communications & Marketing Manager, also a playwright on the rise, and we were excited to engage Jordan and Tommy in a conversation about their careers as well as their visions of success when the four of us met recently at a restaurant near the Lark.

We wanted to know what was on their minds, as artists who had demonstrated such tenacity and resourcefulness in pursuit of self-defined success. We wanted to know what they had learned so far about the paths they had chosen, what they thought they could share with others about what they had learned, and where they were headed. Based on our conversation, they agreed to write personal essays for the Lark’s blog and we decided that it would be valuable to publish them in the same month.

In fact, I have been thinking a lot recently about the idea of success and what it means to me, to the Lark as an institution, to the artists we serve and to the field. When you think of success in black and white terms, its binary opposite is failure. Our fear, in the creative process, is that nothing exists in the space between success and failure, that we will have nothing to hold onto in this middle space, and that we risk life and death with every step we take. In the face of so much recent cataclysmic failure worldwide—and I mean failures of enormous scope like the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, financial collapse in global markets, and chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan—I have developed a new appreciation for the idea of small, incremental successes, the stones we step on to cross the water to the accomplishments we seek on the other side. These are the kinds of successes that are achievable by us all, that are the result of careful and thoughtful planning, and that usually add up to results of consequence. Though the steps may be small, they require imagination, big vision, generous communication, tenacity and huge heart. I root for these successes every day, in the rehearsal room, for my kids at school and in my life.

Naturally, I’m not the only one in history to have ruminated on the meaning of success. At our end of the season celebration last week at the Lark, I shared a few expert perspectives on the subject with the assembled members of our community.

Thoughts on this issue include deep thinkers like Swami Vivekananda, Indian spiritual leader of the Hindu religion and disciple of the famous 19th century mystic-saint Sri Ramakrishna of Calcutta, who said: “Take up one idea, Make that one idea your life—think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. That is the way to success.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson,
American poet, lecturer and essayist (and the subject of a new play by Rob Ackerman that is being developed at the Lark), said: “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children… to leave the world a better place... to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

Albert Einstein said: “If A equals success, then the formula is A equals X plus Y and Z, with X being work, Y play, and Z keeping your mouth shut.

There are the politicians and policy makers:

Winston Churchill said, “
Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.

And Colin Powell, more earnestly, said, “
There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.

And, of course, there are the humorists:

Mark Twain stated, “
To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence.

Oscar Wilde quipped, “
Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.

And Lily Tomlin observed, “The road to success is always under construction.”

All these ideas about success are pretty consistent, I think: real success is something internally defined.

Real success is the capacity to connect the things you do to the journey you want to take.

That is a hard idea to process in a field and a society that defines success by awards and box office grosses.

I think this connection between vision and the steps that are necessary to take to achieve it is our core value at the Lark, and of the community we attract.

I think that Tommy and Jordan, who began their journeys some time ago, are continually refining their plans and goals, learning lessons at every step and building a working knowledge of the unique territory they have each chosen to traverse.

I hope that their personal reflections, and their significant successes, will engage and inspire you. We look forward to reading your responses to Tommy and Jordan—and to one another!


By Tommy Smith

There’s your life and then there’s your art.

Most people I think who are artists would agree with that statement.

I think some artistic practices are exempt from this rule, though.

And I think playwriting is one of them.

Some other world always occupies you, or you hear dialogue on the street and codify it as dialogue instead of conversation.

You use aspects of your own life to privately inform fake situations; every artist does this to some extent but playwrights often forgo the artifice of fiction and place the actual situation in the mouths of actors.

I have lost friends over this.

They say, That’s me.

And I say, How could that be you?

And they say, Because that’s a conversation we had.

And I say, That’s an actor speaking memorized dialogue that I wrote down in a computer after I thought of them in my head, alone in my room.

And then even if you patch it up, there’s always this weird glitch in the relationship, and sometimes you think of how Eugene O’Neill must have felt with that draft of Long Day’s in his drawer for all those years, rubbing his chin at the thought of his family members ever catching a glimpse and seeing, somewhat, what Gene really felt.

I know playwrights who have to hide what they do from their parents.

They don’t invite them to performances.

Because it would be weird, wouldn’t it, if you were a fifty-five year old man and you’ve lived in the Suburbs for the last twenty years and then you come to the city and find a journeyman actor who may have and most likely appeared in an episode of Law & Order – you find him onstage saying things that sound like the things you say to a young girl/boy who looks like your son/daughter?

I would probably have the same reaction.

Or boyfriends of my female playwright friends who get all huffy at the fictional boyfriend summarizing a long-dead fight and later they’re staring at the ceiling in bed, hour three of the rekindled argument, and they have nothing left to say to one another so they follow the passing car lights on the ceiling.

Playwrights are encouraged to bring their personal life onto the stage, and I guess what I’m talking about is the phenomenon of the resulting interpersonal fallout that sometimes happens when you’re a playwright and you’ve decided to present fictional versions of real life encounters for other people to see.

There’s also the monetary concern.

Playwrights are not known to have money.

A journeyman actor friend of mine said to me:

Playwrights can make a killing, but they can’t make a living.


Neil LaBute, Yasmine Reza, David Lindsay-Abaire.

A music professor of mine said to me while we were listening to Yanni play in the background at a coffee shop that no one should ever make fun of an artist who has found a way to build an audience around what they do.


Everyone else.

You start to develop a story around your life.

Mostly you’re framed by how you haven’t died yet.

How haven’t you died yet? people say.

And you shrug your shoulders and say, Not yet.

The story of most playwrights involves the laundry list of sacrifices.

My playwright friend spent over a year on her friends’ couches while living out of a backpack.

Another had a mental breakdown after harsh criticism, and could not write for a year.

Another suffered from a deteriorated mental state brought on by a combination of sleeping aids and alcohol and began to hear voices coming from a radio, experiences which he used to fuel his next artistic project.

Another got sued for harassment by two of his former best friends for using material from their friendships.

Another became a dominatrix to support her writing.

I have yet to find a playwright who does not, or did not regularly, smoke marijuana.

Joe Orton’s lover hacked him to death.

The multiple pill bottles of Tennessee Williams.

Spaulding Gray.

It is not exactly a healthy lifestyle, and it is definitely anti-social, and as I’m writing these very words I’m thinking about all the things I have to do today, and really I just want to keep sitting here at this desk, remembering things I wanted to say to people later in another form.

We can talk about the odd jobs.

We can talk about teaching or temping or waiting or getting snatched up by a product placement job in the television industry.

It’s all a distraction from getting back to the desk, away from everyone, in the globe of your own impulse.

I was talking with another playwright friend and on the fourth or fifth glass of Trader Joe’s we expressed our disinterest in attending rehearsals or responding to what we wrote in any way and us realizing simultaneously also that the great majority of playwrights really have been reclusive since maybe very young, as we were all kids who preferred to keep ourselves holed away in a corner instead of playing with the thronging mass, writing in our College-ruled notebooks on the bleachers.


You write what you know but everything’s that written is fiction.

Three years ago, I was sleeping in a dead cat's room in Prague when it struck me: Why the hell am I doing this?

I had traveled to the Czech city to produce a show of mine.

We designed piece so that the performer could perform the show and I could run the tech, making it a two-man operation that was easy to tour.

Through the hobo theatre network, the performer had landed a free apartment in the outskirts of the city.

This made the production possible, as we could pay ourselves if our lodging was free.

At the foot of the apartment was a strip club that was actually a whorehouse masquerading as a strip club.

When we got upstairs, our billeter showed us our room.

This is where the cat used to live, he coughed into his collar.

The cat had died last month.

Our billeter hadn't cleaned the room since the death.

Huge balls of cat hair hid themselves in corners, like lost western tumbleweeds.

The dried out water dish sat sadly next to a food dish with a remaining few bits of kibble.

As is customary in situations like this, we thanked our billeter profusely for his generosity and hunkered down.

When everyone in the apartment was asleep—four other people lived there aside us two, a common lodging situation in Prague—we started to clean the room.

Jetlagged, hungry, with tech at ten the next morning, we managed to get the room in an acceptable state to get to bed by three.

Staring at the looming water spots on the ceiling, I started to think of all the people my same age who were sleeping in their nice apartments.

Did they have to hear the ambient sounds of johns fucking prostitutes in the Czech night?

Is this what a normal life looks like?

A phrase popped into my head:

You’re always camping.

I camped a lot as a young kid because that’s the sort of thing you do if you grow up in the rural peninsula of Northwest Washington State.

The idea is that you’re going to pretend like you can live with only the possessions you carry on your back.

You start to think of what you actually need in life.

What you need to survive.

And often these things are intangible, they are qualities of observation, ways of relating to danger, tactics for survival.

If you’re an artist, and especially if you’re a playwright, you’re always camping.

You forage for shelter.



And after the fire’s built and the tent’s popped, you look up at the stars.

You might get lucky sometimes, you might fall into a good situation every now and then but your eye is always on the door, wondering when you’ll be on the other side of it again.

No one supports the life of the playwright except the playwright.

In terms of employment, the closest relevant analog is the profession of a phrenologist.

No one talks about the quality of life as a playwright, so I guess what I want to say is that I’m really proud of the people who do this still in this day and age when everything points against doing it, your very survival is constantly put into questions be recessions and new technologies and better employment and misunderstanding and artistic dry spells and the inability to mesh conflicting schedules with your lover or retirement, what’s retirement?

I was saying pretty much those words to a friend of mine.

We were in the heat of an argument about the lack of funding in this country blah.

His music device was on shuffle.

A male voice with a deep twangy accent, an inspirational speaker, came on.

This is what he said:

Keep at it. It’s such a tricky business. You want to do your art but you’ve got to live, so you’ve got to have a job, and then sometimes you’re too tired to do your art. But if you love what you’re doing, you’re going to keep on doing it anyway. I’ve been very lucky. Along the way there are people who help us. I’ve had plenty of people in life who’ve helped me go to the next step. And you get that help because you’ve done something, so you have to keep doing it. So much of what happened to me was good fortune, but I would say, try to get a job that gives you some time. Get your sleep, and a little but of food, and work as much as you can. There’s so much enjoyment in doing what you love. Maybe this will open doors and you’ll find a way to do what you love. I hope you do.

By Jordan Seavey

So spoke Lark actress Jennifer Dorr White, who tackled multiple roles in my play CHILDREN AT PLAY, the most recent fully-produced piece by my company, CollaborationTown.

I describe CollaborationTown to people as a small nonprofit theatre company that creates ensemble-based new work collaboratively. By "collaboratively" I mean any number of things—from group-devised collage pieces to a play of my own lone writing which I receive input on collaboratively from company members even when mounted and produced in a more traditional way—and by "small" I mean... really small. We work on a shoestring budget and, in fact, have also been so insular and company-based that CHILDREN AT PLAY was the first time we worked with an entirely new "outside" director and professional actors who were also new to the company. (This was partially due to necessity as it was the first time we produced a piece that required actors older than those in our founding members' peer group.)

Now, when I think of Jennifer's comment with my cynic/realist hat on, I think, "Sure, the play 'deserved' a longer life but I'm a young, emerging writer and this production of this play was, ultimately, probably just a stepping stone (albeit a significant stepping stone) in the development of what I hope to be a long career, and of course, at the level at which we produced it and with our limited resources, it couldn't have continued much further." But when I think of Jennifer's comment with my optimist hat on (compared to the other, this hat's a clunky fit on me and so often gets relegated to a hook on my bedroom wall), I think, "Goddamnit, you're right, Jennifer! This play DID deserve a longer life—in fact, it probably deserved a better, more supported production. What if I could be part of a theater community that actually embraced risky, exciting-if-flawed work by unknown or very early career playwrights?"

I've been thinking a lot about the very true cliché that writing a play is like bringing a child into the world, so I've been thinking a lot about what kind of world I'm bringing my children—my plays—into.

CHILDREN AT PLAY received the best kind of mixed reviews—the ones that liked it really liked it, and the ones that didn't really didn't. That, to me, is a sign of good theater—it's polarizing, it rubs a fair number of people the wrong way, and it's about subjects people would prefer not to watch in plays. It was not reviewed by The New York Times, despite our reputable press agent and the fact that we had a well-known downtown actress with a bit of a cult following in a lead role. I know this was most likely a blessing in disguise—aborting my baby is unquestionably the more humane choice when faced with sending it naked and vulnerable into many critics’ arms. Yet there is also a sort of cult of playwriting which many of us find ourselves criticizing and complaining about—while, at the same time, trying hard to break into. And I, for one, can honestly say it is not the low-level fame that comes with being a high-level playwright, nor the (possibly kind, probably horrid) reviews I'll eventually get in the Times that attracts me to it. Rather, it's that I write plays to

1) be mounted, and be mounted as fabulously as possible, and

2) share this fully-realized vision/version of my play with an audience of as many people as possible.

I write for a/the community and, while a small community is meaningful, a large community can be life-changing. As of this writing I am in the midst of self-reflection about both my actual work and my career, so I don't have lucid answers to many of my questions. But I agree with Jennifer, so one thing I know is that I don't ever wish to hear "This play REALLY deserved a longer life" again, after killing myself to produce something of which I am so proud.

To that end, a major piece of advice I'd give to younger playwrights who are self-producing and/or running a theater company is this: get a good, hardworking, reputable press agent, and get her/him early on. I think that's one way in which we've been quite naive as a company; we believed we could do our own marketing, and we did it for years. And for the most part had remarkable luck doing so. But we could've gotten much further much faster with a solid liaison. What do I regret least? Well, having six plus years under our belts as a company certainly helps our press agent promote us more, as opposed to promoting a group 6 months out of undergrad. Part of me feels silly devoting a large portion of this essay to "hire a press agent!" but we're promoting our children after all. Some children enter the world less privileged than others and vice versa. And while, for many of us playwrights, our children lean toward the poverty-stricken, one basic tenet of education (as it were) is to invest in someone who'll get your child the attention it deserves. Actually, I don't feel silly saying that; I feel silly that such a big part of theater in 2010 New York City is who's heard of you and how they heard of you—but that's not something I can change right now, so get thee to a press agent.

Doing everything ourselves—marketing very much included—taught me a hell of a lot, however, and not only in terms of myriad practicalities. It taught me about what it is to take responsibility for the art I'm making. It's almost like I extended my undergrad theater training for six extra years; in my undergrad training (which was also primarily focused on creation-by-ensemble) I felt like I owned every aspect of every detail of every choice we made. I think this sensation can dissipate all too quickly in the real world and, in a way, I feel that running my company in a “lo-fi” way has made me really own my choices and, in turn, my art. It's funny that I'm seeking to have my writing produced by larger companies than my own, where many artists and administrators unknown to me increase the chances that said writing might be compromised. But again, I think CollaborationTown has begun teaching me a sort of concrete assurance in my work, and how to communicate.

That's my second big piece of advice to emerging playwrights—collaborate. Playwriting is a notoriously solitary career—but theater is famously collaborative, to the point of being infamously social, and ain't that grand? Take advantage of the fact, find people with whom you work well interpersonally and artistically, and run with them. Really. Grab their hands and run together side by side for as long as you have breath and/or don't kill each other. I'm an only child, and the surrogate sisters and brothers I've forged (forced?) relationships with through art have become my family in a fairly literal sense, and taught me most everything I know about human communication on both personal and artistic levels. One's work deepens so incredibly when it's being shaped, dramaturgically speaking, by collaborators you know intimately, share a common vocabulary with, and have worked with on previous process after previous process.

Because even if you're working on a new play with a single author (i.e. yourself), receiving dramaturgical feedback from those people means you're building said play based on the building blocks of past play experiences past.

Whether or not you, fair reader, have gone on a journey through this rambling essay is a whole other question, and one that probably relates quite directly to its quality.
However, we write at least partially to go on a journey ourselves—right? And I'm discovering I have. Do I think CHILDREN AT PLAY deserved a longer life? Yes, but perhaps analyzing the reasons why it wasn't meant to be is beside the point, fruitless especially if they're bigger things I can't directly change right now. The question becomes this: Would I trade a longer run for a production which I had less of a hand in, artistically? The answer is, simply: Absolutely not.

Friday, May 7, 2010

May 2010 - John Clinton Eisner

Spring is When Things Bloom
John Clinton Eisner

Spring has arrived in New York City—the signs are everywhere! Warm rainstorms are followed by cool days of sunshine and blue skies. Hay fever descends on some of us as pollen swirls out of the park and accumulates in small, pale green snow banks where the sidewalk meets the sides of the buildings on my block. Overcoats have disappeared and new spring fashion blooms with color amidst the customary gray tones of the city.

At the Lark, spring has also sprung. Winter jackets no longer hang from the backs of chairs. The hallways of our building—a beehive of theater activity--are filled with young actors warming up for summer stock auditions. Our interns have grown confident and extremely effective in their jobs—and our staff has come to count on them—just in time for the semester to end! So, staff member Anna Kull is already interviewing interns for the summer and the fall. Meanwhile, everyone is in planning mode for next season, busily tracking artists’ projects, confirming collaborations with our partners, budgeting and raising necessary funds before the fiscal year ends on June 30th. And we are preparing for our Annual Year-End All-Company Celebration Bash on June 2nd.

The seasons, taken together, are, in and of themselves, occasions for reflection and assessment and they help me to establish a rhythm and a structure within which to set goals, establish effective processes aligned with those goals and measure progress towards a stated outcome. But each season, considered separately, embodies very distinctive characteristics. Spring, to my mind, is a time for shedding layers, stretching unused muscles and renewing our commitments to life and work. The cycle of life encoded in the seasons is the yardstick by which we measure progress—individually or, as in the case of the Lark, institutionally.

As I contemplate the Lark’s journey this spring, I see a major shift in our capacity to support playwrights far beyond the early stages of developing their work by helping them to play a hands-on role in advancing their own project to one or more productions. We are beginning to see a real leap in the way Lark-developed plays are recognized locally, nationally and globally and there have been some exciting breakthroughs in pursuit of our mission to bring unheard voices into significant public awareness. This month, for instance, four new writers have moved into a higher level of visibility as a result of two major awards recognizing works created at the Lark. One of these plays, Katori Hall's "The Mountaintop," a beautiful imagining of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last night alive at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, won “Best Play” at the Olivier Awards for its run at London’s Theatre 503 and its West End extension, and is now heading to Broadway. “The Mountaintop” was developed at Lark over a two-year period from conception to completion. Katori is Lark's third annual Playwrights of New York ("PONY") Fellow.

In addition, all three of this year's Pulitzer Prize finalists in Drama are Lark writers—Kristoffer Diaz, Rajiv Joseph and Sarah Ruhl—which means that they wrote the plays that first earned them major attention in Lark-supported programs. And two of the finalist plays (Diaz' "The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity" and Joseph's "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo") were themselves written at the Lark! All this on the heels of last year’s OBIE and Lucille Lortel awards recognizing Lark’s service to the community and our “body of work.”

But, as all members of the Lark community know, our bread and butter is not the flashy stuff. While we have helped bring many playwrights to prominence, what matters to us is not the commercial potential of the plays we support but the vision of the artists who have found a home with us. We are, at heart, a community-based organization and we depend upon friends like you who have experienced our work and believe in our mission to nurture innovation and welcome risk. I think that Lark's process for supporting playwrights is unique in that it capitalizes on each writer's idiosyncratic voice and vision and protects them from outside influences until their plays are quite fully formed. This commitment to the "long haul" is why I think the work that is created at Lark is so often rich and distinctive. It is important to note as well that Lark receives no royalties from the plays that are created here. The reason is simple: the moment we choose work based on an expectation of financial return--if we speculate upon what will be a "hit" or not--we stray from our mission of supporting original and unheard voices and opening up access to the theater for new communities. For similar reasons, we don't produce work ourselves (though we help producers get to know writers and to form collaborations to advance ambitious plays). Because playwrights can't "get a production" at the Lark, they don't need to impress us or please us. They can write however they want.

In this moment of spring tranquility, I feel excited, energized and ready to move forward. A spring breeze is dancing through the window. I hear the Cinco de Mayo celebrants downstairs at Cancun, one of our playwrights’ favorite haunts. I am preparing my itinerary for a week in Romania this month with David Henry Hwang, Arthur Kopit, Theresa Rebeck and Saviana Stanescu, followed by a week in Moscow scouting out new opportunities for American playwrights. I hear laughter in the other room where the staff is organizing May’s impossibly tight program schedule: Franco-African playwright Koffi Kwahule will be in residency with playwright/translator Chantal Bilodeau at work on the seventh play by Kwahule to be translated at the Lark “That Old Black Magic,” directed by Lucie Tiberghien; all five of our Playwrights’ Workshop fellows (Michi Barall, Madeleine George, Katori Hall, Sarah Treem and David Wiener) will be presenting work they’ve developed since last fall; David Henry Hwang is preparing for a workshop of his new play “Chinglish” in collaboration with the Public Theater; and Mark Lutwak of Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park will be in residence to work with Arlene Hutton on a new commission they commissioned through a young audiences initiative funded by Macy’s.

The projects rise up just like the daffodils, and they are just as wondrously beautiful! I hope your spring is full of reflection and possibility as ours!

Warmest wishes,

Thursday, April 8, 2010

April 2010 - Colin Greer


This blog focuses on what our community members have to say about where we’re headed as a society and the tools we’ll need to get there. Each month, we invite a guest essayist to share a unique perspective on the role of live theater in the
twenty-first century and what the field has to offer society as a whole.

Our guest essayist this month is Colin Greer. In addition to being a playwright, poet and essayist, Colin has been President of the New World Foundation since 1985. He is the author of many books on education and social justice and chairs Lark’s Board of Trustees. Early on, he was an assistant to Peter Brook. His ful
l bio can be found at

More than any other influence in my life, Colin changed the way I see theater and its possibility. The Lark has become a special place of process and inquiry—a true platform for creative expression and experimentation—as a consequence of more than a decade of deep dialogue with Colin about the relationship between theater and society and the role of playwrights and their collaborators as leaders, visionaries, and the formers of new vocabulary to describe a changing world.

We look forward to reading your responses to Colin—and to one another


by Colin Greer

I recently saw Stephen Schwartz (who is most widely known for his musical “Wicked”) interviewed on Channel 1’s “On Stage,” talking about how he experienced the “meanness” of Broadway and the much more “creatively comfortable” world of regional and not-for-profit theaters which are ideally driven by a non commercial mission. I resonated with that point because I have found myself increasingly bored on Broadway and excited and stimulated off-Broadway. So I am interested in what the non commercial mission brings into play that engages me.

As I think about this mission, I am reminded of Paul Woodruff argument in his book The Necessity of Theatre. He finds this mission in what he calls “active theater,” which he sees as deriving from and constituted by ritual reminiscent of religious origins. My own interest is less in theater as ritual and more in theater as epistemology: what I would call a “theater of inquiry” based on dynamic processes of investigating human experience rather than as a force working simply in the interest of tradition and continuity. For me, active theater is a way of knowing. When I sit in on Lark roundtables, for example, it is entirely fulfilling as an exploratory process. In the next phases of a play’s development, that exploratory dynamic continues as we deploy the senses of touch, hearing, vision, and imagination brought into service of reflection, understanding and open inquiry.

What do I mean by a theater of inquiry?

1) Theater happens by collaboration: Without fixed rules on how we actually choose writers, directors, actors and audience, theater is always an experiment in participation and encounter.

2) What we present: The end product is a result of creative inspiration that seeps in from the world is then coddled and mashed, caressed and molded to give shape to a reality.

3) Appreciative distance: Living in other people’s hearts and minds helps us to find our shared humanity, which pushes some of the normal boundaries of human interaction. When writers and actors explore and express, audiences are invited to enter imaginatively into the lives of others.

4) Groundlessness: A play is always in transition as it is developed in readings, rehearsals, and performances. And, after a run, the same play can be quite different in a new circumstance with new people. Entering a terrain where things have permission to fall apart and fragments are allowed to re-gather is the rich territory of discovery we enter as we attach, detach and re-attach during the journey of creating a play.

5) Tradition: A play requires an intense willingness to pay attention to and to question a great repertoire of established explanations. By taking part in these new areas of experience, we weave in and out of theology, psychology, philosophy, and law, without a fixed point as we engage the complex realms of social conventions, family customs and personal desire.

6) Shock: Through circumstances and character, theater can fracture “now” and ask us to test living in a new space. To re-design the world, or as Heidegger put it (in his article “The Origin of the Work of Art”) is “to speak out with the design of a world in mind” and to challenge dissociated routines, empty conversations and inertia.

In presenting theater as an epistemological activity I don’t mean to be one more philosophically inclined former academic claiming it as another particular philosophy among other philosophies. For me, “active theater” serves because its inquiry processes, in contrast to philosophy’s dedication to expression via concepts and verbal definitions, stem from its use of image and live symbolic expression. By coming alive through both personal and interpersonal voice theater engages me in the complex integration of my inner and outer experience.

Friday, March 5, 2010

March 2010 - Daniella Topol


This blo
g focuses on what our community members have to say about where we’re headed as a society and the tools we’ll need to get there. Each month, we invite a guest essayist to share a unique perspective on the role of live theater in the twenty-first century and what the field has to offer society as a whole.

Our guest essayist this month is Daniella Topol, a New York-based freelance theater director (formerly the Lark’s Artistic Program Director) whose recent work shows both her dedication to fresh new voices and the breadth of her relationships to theaters in the field: Nicki Bloom’s "Tender" (Summer Play Festival), Susan Yankowitz’s "Night Sky" (Power Productions/Baruch Performing Arts Center), Leslie Ayvazian’s "Carol and Jill" (EST), Caridad Svich’s "Instructions for Breathing" (Passage Theatre), Jakob Holder’s "Housebreaking" (Cherry Lane), Trista Baldwin’s "Forgetting" (Workhaus Collective) and "Sand" (Women’s Project), Sean Hartley, Kim Oler and Alison Hubbard’s "Little Women: the Musical" (Village Theatre), Judith Thompson’s "Palace of the End" (Epic Theatre), Sheila Callaghan’s "Dead City" (New Georges), Stanton Wood’s "Snow Queen" (Urban Stages), and Susan Bernfield’s "Tiny Feats of Cowardice." Current directing projects include Sheila Callaghan’s "Lascivious Something" (Women’s Project in association with Cherry Lane), Susan Bernfield’s "Stretch" (People’s Light and Theatre Company), Maria Irene Fornes’ "Sarita" (Fordham University), and Sheila Callaghan’s "Water" (or The Secret Life of Objects), a multi-media epic about floods.

Daniella approaches play-making from multiple perspectives. She is an imaginative director, visionary producer, and thoughtful humanist. She balances vision with steely determination. She knows how to work collaboratively with people of all stripes to discover, with them, the essence of what they need to know—and makes that knowledge and the credit for its discovery theirs. She is a diplomat through and through, but always honest, outspoken and direct. You can count on her word as well as on her good taste. Just ask anyone who has ever worked with her—or for whom she has worked—and they'll concur.

In the essay that follows, Daniella considers her own struggle to bring her vision and exceptional critical capacities to the table without stepping on other people’s toes and to fully participate in the creative process throughout the stages of play’s development. To my mind, she is exploring the treacherous frontier that exists between all collaborators—a landscape of complex ideas and inexpressible emotions that requires careful listening, trust, respect and, finally, conviction, to navigate successfully. Da
niella asks the question that finally confronts every artist in any collaboration: “What is the essential role that I can play to shape the work at hand?” Or, more specifically, “Why am I working on this project with these people?”

We look forward to reading your responses to Daniella—and to one another!



Taking the time to imagine...
by Daniella Topol

Developing new work is such a tricky thing for directors! We don’t want to invade the writer’s process of discovering his/her play but we want to be there to support, respond, and question how the play is progressing. We want to be present and loyal to the writer and his or her vision, but cannot be naïve in presuming that we will be the one and only person to bring the project in hand to fruition. What is a director to do?

A few years ago, I was developing a musical that was commissioned by a fairly large and well-known musical theatre organization. I had worked tirelessly with the writing team on the dramaturgy of the piece. For YEARS. Now it was time to plan for the production, including choosing a director. The producing theater had high-profile candidates on their short list. Fortunately, the writers were advocating for me. However, when the theater asked them why they wanted me, they could only speak to my contribution to the dramaturgy on the piece. In all of our work sessions, we had never discussed what the production I would direct would look like. To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t actually ever thought about what my production would look like or feel like. The piece had never seemed “ready” enough for me to include my vision in the conversation. What followed was an “interview” of me by the writing team where I outlined how I would direct the production. I bristled at the idea of interviewing for a project in which I had been involved for years but I went ahead and did it. We soon realized that my vision of the piece matched theirs (not surprising, but still affirming), but, sadly, the production was cancelled when the theater closed its doors because of the economic downturn.

While the whole process of settling on me as as the project's director turned out to be a moot point, I learned a valuable lesson. Why not take the time to envision a production at every stage of developing a play?

Supporting the dramaturgical development of new work is NOT directing new work. Of course we all know this. But sometimes, in the early stages, it feels the same. Maybe directors should carve out more time to imagine what our ideal world premiere would look like, feel like, and move like. What is the ideal space? Who are the ideal designers and actors to realize this vision? If we take the time and space to imagine in this way, even in the very very early stages, we can then discuss what we imagine with the playwright and find out if we share a common vision for the trajectory of the piece. The director’s role then moves beyond simply responding to the script and working “in service” of the playwright. If directors only work dramaturgically or as facilitators in the early stages of a play’s development, why should playwrights then advocate for us to direct their actual production? Who wants to hire a facilitator to direct a world premiere? Who wants to hire a director that has just been “in service” to a playwright?

I am not implying that directors should not do whatever they can to realize the writer’s intention. I am only saying that a director’s work developing new plays could be much more proactive than just responding to what is on the page. We can take the space and time to conceive and imagine the possibilities of a production at every turn. We can make sure to created a rehearsal room filled with a spirit and a theatricality that not only explores the text but also the possibilities of how the text can best be realized in space. We can discuss our vision, ideas and impulses with the playwright so that every step in a play's development is part of a larger vision of realizing an ideal production.

My favorite part of being a director is when I know I have an upcoming production and I can scheme, dream, and plan for it with the playwright, designers, and producers. Why not start that process in the early stages of a play’s inception? Worst case scenario, we scheme and dream and the play does not ever get the world premiere production that it deserves, or it does, but with another director at the helm. Both of these scenarios can be heartbreaking for a director, but, was it really so bad to take the time to imagine?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

February 2010 - Caridad Svich


This blog focuses on what our community members have to say about where we’re headed as a society and the tools we’ll need to get there. Each month, we invite a guest essayist to share a unique perspective on the role of live theater in the twenty-first century and what the field has to offer society as a whole.

Our guest essayist this month is Caridad Svich, a playwright, translator, songwriter and longtime member of our artist community. She is a collaborator on many levels and a polymath. She has supported Lark’s growth by sharing her expertise in a range of subject areas, from desktop publishing to international exchange, and currently serves on the advisory committee for our U.S.-Mexico Playwright Exchange program. Caridad astounds me with her ability to set and achieve ambitious goals; she multitasks with grace, poise and evident pleasure. She recently participated in Lark’s week-long Winter Writers’ Retreat where she wrote a brand-new play in just eight days. At the same time, she is organizing a major conference, publishing four new volumes of plays from Migdalia Cruz, Karen Hartman, Chiori Miyagawa, Octavio Solis and Saviana Stanescu (the book launch is on February 26th), and preparing to travel to the Denver Center Theatre Company to see one of her own plays at the Colorado New Play Summit. Meanwhile, the same play—The House of the Spirits, based on the novel by Isabel Allende—continues its repertory run at Repertorio Espanol in New York City (check out

One of the things I admire most about Caridad is her ability to balance art and activism and to inspire others through both means. In this spirit, she founded NoPassport—a remarkable artist collective that arose in response to the impact on the theater of communications technology, globalization and other modern realities. NoPassport acknowledges that we are often overwhelmed by information, distance and violent divisions among the peoples of the world—despite the internet and our best intentions. Caridad, however, is a true visionary; she looks beyond shifting circumstances and recognizes the human need to connect on a deep and personal level. In her essay, she contends that the future of the theater—and of our humanity—depends upon finding new ways to create shared space for communal dreaming. She defines “Utopia” as a place where we are able to dream with other people. In her own words, Caridad describes NoPassport as “a virtual and live forum for the exchange of work and dreams, a live network between theaters and the academy, and a mobile band of playwrights, directors,
actors, producers and musicians.”

If you want to know more about NoPassport, its annual conference takes place February 26-27 at Nuyorican Poets Café (with a pre-conference event at New Dramatists on February 25th), and culminates in a celebration event in the Lark Studio. The conference—“Dreaming the Americas: Utopia in Performance”—promises to tear up our assumptions about what constitutes theater and how audiences connect to it. I’ll be there throughout. Registration is online at

In the essay that follows, Caridad explores what makes the theater special to the interlinked communities of artists and citizens who collaborate as creator-participants in shaping and supporting our evolving culture. We look forward to reading your responses to Caridad’s thoughts—and to one another!


Considering Utopia
by Caridad Svich

Find yourself in a hotel room in Utopia, Texas overlooking the cypress-lined Sabinal River. Consider the expanse of sky and the relative ease of the rivers current. An image of a perfect society emerges in your mind, where the metaphysical space that encompasses language, history, morality and sexuality is in harmonious, hopeful balance. Here in the small room in the middle of seeming nowhere, considerations of beauty, love and social change dance on an open stage liberated from the concerns of globalization, neo-liberalism and terror. Today, you think, is beauteous pretend and play. Tomorrow will be another day. But the more you look out of your hotel room and scan the limits of Utopia, the more the Texas sky calls you to action, to, in effect, give up pretend, and get on with the reality of life. And yet, what if your job is to pretend, and indeed, to play?

In the collective no-space shared between audience and practitioners, expressions of utopian desire abound when we walk into and take part in the theater laboratory. In the Here of shared literal and metaphorical space, dreams of new societies are imagined, constructed and dismantled, liberated from the constraints outside the demarcated space of deep play. Theater and live performance retains its dangerous potentiality, in part, because it posits a shared space of dreaming for society. Running counter to theater’s multidimensional, utopian impulse are the anti-utopian modes of hierarchy and exclusivity inscribed in its economics, forms and institutions (especially of bourgeois theater). Thus, if you are committed to a utopian practice after the onset of late capitalism, where do you go to dream?

In Utopia, Texas, the modest Main Street runs through the center of town, and talk of fishing, hunting, gardening, cycling and swimming tends to dominate the conversations overheard on the street. There is some talk of art and occasionally of photography, but very rarely, if ever, of live performance, unless the subject is of a local or national pop, country, or roots band playing in a town or two nearby. Theater, in other words, is something of a curiosity and best left to the local kindergarten or high school play. How odd it is to pretend to be someone else? Odder still to want to do that for a life’s journey.

I’ve been writing plays and theater pieces for nearly twenty years. Sometimes I can’t even imagine what compelled me to consider the strange utopia of the stage as the most exciting embodiment for my stories. I often ask students to describe the first live performance they say that truly made an impact on them. Most of them speak of moments when they were on stage for the first time in their local kindergarten, elementary, middle or high school and often how they delighted in singing, dancing or some combination thereof. Occasionally, some of my students will talk about a show their parents took them to see for a special birthday or graduation. Often, the show was a Broadway musical or a touring production of a Broadway musical. One of my students said to me the other day without the least bit of facetiousness that the Disney Corporation probably had had the greatest impact on his imagination.

If you write for the theater, invariably, you know you’re writing for what is likely a limited audience. The collective no-space of play rarely can accommodate thousands or even millions, unlike the non-collective space of film, which doesn’t even require an audience to complete its experience. A piece of film runs on a loop and it matters not whether someone is watching, but a play really cannot truly exist and vibrate in the resonant space of performance without the presence of the audience, even if it is an audience of one.

What happens, then, when you build a dream in virtuality? In 2002 I wanted to expand some of the experiments I’d been conducting through the creation of online texts with multiple authors into something less tangible and yet hopefully as utopian as the making of a theater piece. I reached out to a band of twelve colleagues in the field to see if they’d like to be part of a virtual, national collective called NoPassport. I said “Let’s play with words and music. Let’s see what mind of word-songs we can share in the free digital utopia of e-mail and the internet. The space we inhabited for about a year was mutable, quirky, offbeat, passionate, adventurous, bold and intimate. We posted pieces for live performance, we wrote texts together, and we performed live in venues such as Tonic and the Bric and even wrote a manifesto entitled “Dirty Thoughts About Money.” In 2003, I curated a symposium at INTAR Theatre in New York City about the state of U.S. Latino/a playwriting. My goal was then to simply gather voices from across generations and also from across the country. Not just the Nuyorican voice, but the Southwestern, Chicano, Afro-Caribbean, Cuban, Western, Southern and hybrid voices that make up the vast, complex, multivalent shelf where U.S. Latino/a writing is placed within the larger American voice. A symposium turned into a jam session and the jam session turned into a call for a hub, a network, a virtual place where we could always meet, jam, riff, rant, advocate, mentor, debate, and play. Suddenly, the band of 12 became a band of 500 and counting and NoPassport theater alliance was in action.

Since 2003, we’ve staged roundtables at universities and theaters across the country, convened for three national conferences (2007-2009) hosted by Frank Hentschker and the Martin E. Segal Theater Center at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City, published eight titles of new plays and translations, and sprung a spoken word arm mischievously called Hibernating Rattlesnakes, that has performed at the Nuyorican Poets Café and Telephone Bar, respectively, over the last year. I can’t even imagine what kind of utopian dream was being conjured when I put out the invitation to play back in 2002, but I do know that a virtual space was transformed by the living, breathing, thinking bodies and minds of a critical mass of practitioners, scholars, and fellow dreamers.

It’s 2010, and next month on February 26 and 27, we hold the fourth national NoPassport theater alliance & press conference at the Nuyorican Poets Café. Much of the last six months I’ve been in the not-glamorous trenches of scheduling, grassroots fund-raising, curatorial meetings (with co-curators Daniel Banks and Daniel Gallant, and with editorial team advisors Randy Gener, Otis Ramsey-Zoe and Stephen Squibb) and logistical copy-editing, or what is otherwise referred to as: Prep. But what is Prep? And how does one prepare to build and confront a dream? How does one enter a space of Utopia? As a playwright (and in my parallel careers as translator and editor), I find myself constantly negotiating the difficult, complex terrain of utopian desire(s). Much of my writing for the stage in particular addresses the shifting political and emotional geographies of characters left behind by their societies or caught in the rigid hierarchies of non-utopian states. I write hybrid, Latina/o, Anglo, Black, Creole, Asian, Indigenous, transgender, bi, queer, straight figures who often are not labeled or categorized, and do not want to be either. I’ve always thought the most amazing thing about writing is the fact that you can enter any Body, that are you always as a writer Another at one and the same, and that the political freedom of writing is charged with the profound borderless-ness that the creative act requires and demands. In effect, the lack of passport, the No Passport, where the bounteous beauty and chaos of creation lives, regardless of the kind of story (genre) you’re writing or its subject matter.

As founder of NoPassport theater alliance & press, I’m also negotiating my role as citizen of the Americas and the world with my role as an artist. A speech I wrote, for example, on legacy and revolution at the 2009 Conference made me think about how I was going to then actually put forth some of the ideas and challenges I presented in the speech in my own work for the stage and in addition, the kind of dialogue I wanted to sustain and nurture with my ongoing, unofficial band of collaborators. When I created, on commission from Mark Wing-Davey and NYU’s Graduate Acting Program, the new play Rift, which centered, in great part on the subject of human sex trafficking, this past December, I was ever mindful of the space of emotional risk in which I was placing my actors, director and design team. Working off of a loose Joint Stock-inspired model, and therefore a model that at its core had been built around utopian, non-hierarchical collaborative practice, the process of making Rift was an act of working across many borders and boundaries, including ones that become instilled in us as artists sometimes in regard to matters of form and content. What does it truly mean to dream a space of radical utopia, for example, when you’re creating work within an institution that has its own set of hierarchies and boundaries?

I find the utopian desire and the shared experience of live performance and the space of possibility and transformation that it calls forth, at its best, to be as honest, flawed, raw, strange and beautiful as life itself. I recognize the deeply collaborative, intertwined nature of the work we all do in the theater, and how community is and can be sustained with simple acts of grace and the joy of playing, despite the considerable hardships that can pose themselves financially on those of us, many of us, in the starving class. I’m invariably surprised by the imprint left on a shared experience long after the experience itself has become worn into memory, how, in effect, the spaces of play invite us to re-consider our daily lives and our interactions with our fellow citizens on this planet. As the Texan sky bears down on a hotel room deep in the heart of Utopia, I wonder at the fact that when we Pretend and Play, real things, real transformation, can happen.

Caridad Svich