National Reports

New England by Patrick Gabridge

Photo from 2018 Banned Together Boston
2018 Banned Together Boston. Photo: Nile Scott Studios

New England by Patrick Gabridge

The past few months have been busy and fun for our region. This period kicked off, for me at least, with the National Conference in New York at the end of July. What a whirlwind! So much positive, creative playwriting energy crammed into one space was absolutely invigorating. I just about wore my voice out talking with writers from all over, including quite a few from New England. One of the best parts was getting to meet so many other regional reps, who are finding exciting ways to engage their communities. The panels covered a wide variety of subjects, from ten-minute musicals to the oral history project documenting the origins of the post-WW II Off Broadway movement. The Writing for High Schools panel, with John Cariani, Arlene Hutton, and Don Zolidis, made me think about some possibilities for linking up New England Guild members and regional high school drama programs–Guild member and long-time drama teacher John Minigan and I are cooking up exciting plans for 2019 (stay tuned). 

Then September arrived, and we seemed determined to cram everything into one month. We started with a meeting in Amherst, hosted by Eric Sanders and Djola Branner at Hampshire College, where about a dozen of us gathered to meet and share information. It was a group with a wide variety of interests that seemed to cover just about every part of theatre, from new musicals, to socially-conscious devised work, to touring. Daniel Elihu Kramer shared info about the Chester Theatre where he’s producing artistic director (a lovely New Yorker article had just appeared about them), when he’s not busy running the playwriting program at Smith College or creating his own plays. The Chester Theatre Company puts on four mainstage shows every summer season in the tiny town of Chester, MA. There is a lot of new work happening in the Pioneer Valley and the Berkshires these days, and it seemed like everyone at the meeting wore multiple hats and had a different perspective on the scene.

Less than a week later, I was up at Northern Stage in White River Junction, Vermont, for another gathering on a gorgeous fall day. We were a small group (and oddly, all the writers were from New Hampshire and Connecticut—next time we’ll get some actual Vermont writers), but the staff of Northern Stage welcomed us warmly to their brand-new facility. We got to talk a bit with Jess Chayes, their new associate artistic director, who will be deeply involved with Northern Stage’s annual New Works Now Festival (now in its sixth year). In January, New Works Now will feature readings of six new plays, plus they are producing Guild member Marisa Smith’s new play Mad Love and will be bringing Jack Neary’s Trick or Treat to New York (both New England playwrights). 

We wrapped up the month with the Banned Together censorship cabaret at the Boston Public Library’s Rabb Hall, during Banned Books Week. Award-winning director and choreographer Ilyse Manning directed our cast of Boston-area all-stars for a warm crowd. In our age of political turmoil, this event, now co-sponsored by PEN America, felt especially important. We were all grateful for this opportunity for Boston’s theatre community to join the national conversation. The main response from the audience, besides “wow, this was great” was, “when can this happen again?” I’m hoping we’ll be at it again next year.

Speaking of 2019, we have a region full of enthusiastic playwrights, and there are lots of plans afoot for more events and programs in the coming year.