3 Things I Learned at the Midwest Dramatists Conference
I had the pleasure of watching and providing feedback for over twenty ten-minute plays at the Midwest Dramatists Conference. Playwrights from all corners of the country traveled to Olathe, Kansas to share their work in the company of a diverse set of theatre people and it was pretty magical for everyone involved.
It was a privilege to be a panelist at this weekend-long event in its' first year. I feel more inspired than ever to continue the good fight of making important, relevant art like these writers have been. I sincerely hope my feedback to the playwrights was helpful, but I'm even more grateful that I, young producer and theatre administrator, was able to gain so much from this experience. Here are three things I learned or was reminded of at the 2017 Midwest Dramatists Conference:
- Anyone can be a Playwright. The playwrights at this conference were a diverse bunch: they came from a variety of backgrounds and their experiences are vastly different. Some of the writers have had their work produced in New York while others have had their plays presented in their local community theater. Some of writers received Masters Degrees for stage and screenwriting and write full-time while other writers were presenting the very first play they wrote on a whim in their forties. While training, classes, and access to other resources can be helpful for honing writing skills, they're certainly not required for any aspiring playwright who has a story to tell. The majority of the featured playwrights presented very strong work, which highlighted the fact that great plays can be written by anybody. It's all a matter of actually putting a pen on paper and sharing the result through submission or self-producing.
- Plays are more diverse than ever before. I went to the conference sort of expecting to see plays that were intended to be commercially produced: cookie-cutter family dramas that usually require a domestic set and a celebrity to pop in to boost ticket sales. The plays I encountered were anything but typical; they took me by surprise, had me cackling, raised my heart rate, and brought me on short but sweet ten-minute journeys. Playwrights are becoming more innovative with their subject matter, characters, language, and style. They're breaking the rules to tell old stories in new ways and new stories in old ways. They are willing to take risks that push theatre forward. It's exciting!
- Playwrights are trying to engage their immediate audiences by writing relevant plays. Many of the playwrights I met are writing with their home communities, cities, and states in mind. This resulted in more personal, relatable plays throughout the weekend, which was extremely encouraging. The supposed overarching goal of theatre people to "make it on Broadway" is not a concern for most of them, and I think that is a good thing because it results in the creation of theatre that is important rather than sellable. Some of the plays were more timely and appropriate for the present than the majority of the new plays and revivals I've seen on Broadway lately. Relevant theatre on a smaller-scale engages communities and encourages discussion. The plays I saw were inviting and accessible.
To all of the playwrights who shared their beautiful work with me, I thank you! You inspire me to continue doing what I do, so keep doing what you're doing! Write, write, write and then share, share, share, and then write some more.
I'd also like to give a shoutout to the Midwest Dramatist Center team who executed a wonderful event and connected lots of theatre people in the process. Thank you for creating this special conference for playwrights and for having me be a part of it.