North Carolina by Jacqueline E. Lawton
Each month, Dramatists Guild Reps meet to discuss how to better serve and connect with members. In November, Todd London asked the Reps to consider a number of questions that focused on how we could build better bridges with organizations that work in service of playwrights. We were asked to identify opportunities for how to connect the Guild and its writers to theatres and organizations in our regions.
I was excited to receive these questions because it gave me an opportunity to reach out directly to the members about their experiences. Just before Christmas, I sent out a call to take part in a short interview. NC Guild members Marilynn Barner Anselmi, Lawson Caldwell, Carl J. Grasso, June Guralnick, Charles LaBorde, and Kate Winkler were generous enough to respond and share their experiences with us. While I know they don’t speak for everyone, this impromptu survey gave me insight into the landscape of the Tarheel State.
The first question that I posed to the playwrights asked them to identify some of the best champions for playwrights in our area. Caldwell mentioned Donna Scott Productions, a theatre and arts production company based in Charlotte, owing to their creativity and openness to playwrights. LaBorde named Adam Burke, Artistic Director at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, as the strongest champion of playwrights. He explained that “Adam has commissioned works adapting famous children’s literature for the stage or been willing to host initial productions of new works for children.” LaBorde also mentioned Actors Theatre’s nuVoices New Play Festival, and Three Bone Theatre, a resident company at Spirit Square’s Duke Energy Theatre. Winkler recognized Jennifer Treadway, a faculty member at Blue Ridge Community College, who has worked closely with her colleagues to develop, revise, workshop, and produce new plays. Many of these people and organization were new to me.
Next, I asked them what local organizations, other than producing theatres, are the most helpful to playwrights in your region. Anselmi recognized Nash County Arts Center and The Imperial Center for the Arts in Rocky Mount for their support of playwrights in the rural, north-eastern part of North Carolina. Traut continues to be excited by the work of the Women’s Theatre Festival. Gasso highlighted the excellent work being done at the Greensboro Playwrights Forum. Guralnick gave a special recognition to independent bookstores for providing space and publicity support for readings of new plays. She named So & So Books and Quail Ridge in Raleigh and also Country Bookshop in Southern Pines. Guralnick and Winkler both mentioned the North Carolina Writers’ Network. In recent years, they have increased opportunities for playwrights at their annual conference and workshops. Winkler also spoke about the Arts Council of Henderson County, which offers yearly grant workshops open to all artists, including playwrights. It’s thrilling to see these collaborations already taking place.
Finally, I asked the playwrights to consider the biggest obstacles to building better relations between area theatres and the Guild or local playwrights in general. While the responses to this question didn’t surprise me, it’s always disappointing to learn that theatres still struggle with what to do about the new play by an unknown playwright. All of these well-known, much-beloved plays were once new and someone took a chance on them and allowed the playwrights to grow their craft in the process of production. I want to get back to that time. There is also a feeling that local playwrights aren’t taken as seriously or professionally as playwrights from elsewhere. I’m hoping to change this sentiment as well.
More ideas were shared, which I’ll include in my next report. For now, I’m hoping you’re all as inspired as I am by the individuals and organizations working hard in ways large and small to cultivate new work by local playwrights. I find it rather thrilling, and I hope this report will serve as a resource and inspire even more collaborations in the future.