Austin/San Antonio by Sheila Rinear
This Austin-San Antonio Region is bursting with energetic, talented members. One who has been emerging locally, nationally, and internationally is Austinite Rita Anderson, winner of dozens of awards for her plays, poetry, and teaching. Notable among her laurels are The Ken Ludwig Playwriting Award and National Winner of the KCACTF (Kennedy Center). Her three-page list of publications and productions are amazingly impressive. I asked her to share some of her strategies and insights.
Sheila Rinear: Rita, I know how disciplined you are with your time. Could you give us an idea of what a typical writing work day for you looks like?
Rita Anderson: It’s true. No one teaches how to live a writerly life and, since graduating (MA Playwriting 2014), I’ve wrangled with the responsibilities writers must master: writing, editing, finding opportunities, submitting work, and tracking what’s sent on a submission log. To organize, I start with a macro-plan for the year, isolating projects per month—when they’re predictable. In Austin, for example, FronteraFest runs in January-February, Out of Ink in April-May, The One-Minute Play Festival in July-August etc. I’m also involved in annual national and international projects—such as 365 Women a Year Project, and those plays are due by December 31. Once I know what the months look like, I set writing goals for the week, working towards each project as it’s due. I write for several hours every day (M-F) and, with each new work, I need time to walk away so I can return to the play with fresh eyes for revision. So I have to build in this “let it simmer” time, as well. Not all playwriting opportunities are recurrent, however, and, luckily, things spring up (and when my plays are produced I attend, if feasible). In cases like this, I prioritize on a micro-level and my writing plans go into crisis-management mode.
SR: What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of living and working in Austin? And, if you had your choice, is there any other place you’d rather live and work?
RA: Austin has a vibrant new works scene, which is vital to living playwrights, and even though the talent is crushingly good here the theatre practitioners I’ve worked with have a big-hearted approach to newcomers. Another favorite aspect is that there are so many independent theatre companies but artists collaborate freely and openly without the toxic territoriality that kills theatre. Unfortunately, Austin is losing performance venues at an alarming rate.
Is there anywhere else I’d rather live? I’ve had several productions in Boston and NYC but, while I loved the culture in each, my favorite travel destination for one of my plays was Paris. If I lived anywhere else it would be abroad, in London or Paris.
SR: How much time do you give to script submissions?
RA: As a rule, I submit to one opp a day, M-F. I try to give myself the weekends off so I don’t burn out and hate my life—or worse, ruin my art. Last year, because I was feeling exhausted from trying to keep up the pace of some of my contemporaries, I decided to improve the quality of my life by not submitting to “everything.” Now, I sift through opps to decipher if it’s an “opportunity” or a “distraction”: (a) Does it pay? (b) Does that theatre produce great work and would I love to work with them? (c) Have I had a play produced in that city yet? (I’m trying to get a play produced in every state!)
Prolific, poetic, and fun, Rita and I went onto many other playwriting considerations but these are brass tacks facts from the practical protocols of a very successful playwright. If you want to find out more about Rita, check her website: www.rita-anderson.com