With submissions for 2019 due (last) December, the Alliance Theatre’s Reiser Atlanta Artists Lab is heading into its sixth year of funding early stage projects by three-member teams of local artists. Three projects are selected each year from open submission proposal packages and are supported financially for a year-long development process and showcase presentation. With her selection for the 2018 Lab, Daryl Lisa Fazio has joined several other DG members as a Reiser winner. And, like many other Reiser hopefuls, I was interested in what made her project rise to the top. Of course, short from cornering a selecting judge, the best thing was to take cues from the proposal itself and how she framed it.
Fazio’s piece is a “three-woman play called Safety Net that is set in a small Alabama town at war with opioids.” As with her other writing, women are at the center of the play rather than on the periphery: “Women who are strong, complicated, and funny.” In describing the layers of the play, Fazio says she (first) wanted to write about the south and small-town life—“something I kind of know in my bones” —and to focus on a contemporary working class women through (the lens of) their resilience in the face of severe hardship. “Drilling down even further…I wanted to crawl inside the lives of people embroiled in this war to help create more empathy and understanding.” What’s “new” about this project is that she’s writing one of the roles for a specific actor, in this case herself in the role of the fire captain [who has saved a recovering addict]. She goes on to say that she has “the fire” to be back on stage and also thinks that being an artist is about both growth and using “where you are RIGHT NOW.” So all of this is just a thumbprint of how Fazio answered the proposal package questions that boiled down to “Why this project and Why now?”
I also wanted to know about Fazio’s approach for the application (think strategy). She told me her only other submission was a finished piece that had received a public reading and in essence “had already figured out what it was.” Since the purpose of the Reiser is development, Fazio wasn’t surprised Deer Play didn’t get selected and she was smart enough (my words) to realize the valuable discoveries just from working on the application and benefits of making new partnerships. Nonetheless, she waited for the right project to come along before re-applying.
Safety Net started as a way to get back to acting and to “cast a wider net with my work and develop new relationships with theatres.” It was also perfect for the Reiser as, along with other things, “it was a return to my strongest assets: my authentic southern and character-driven voice” and “it could benefit from some intensive devising and collaboration.” She didn’t have a draft of the play when she submitted, but she had done much research about the opioid epidemic and she had an outline. “So I wrote the heck out of those ten pages I was required to submit…I wanted the [judges] to get a feel for the language, the place, the intimacy and realism, the humor, and all three characters…” She then set out to select her collaborators and wisely chose two other “smart, gutsy” women to round out the team: director/dramaturg Karen Robinson and actor/deviser/producer Carolyn Cook. Says Fazio, “That’s the piece of advice I have for future applicants: choose your team wisely…artists who share your vision…they need to challenge you, too. And they need to thrill you a little bit.” --There is more to say, but maybe this little bit of insight from a “winner” can fuel other applicants to think more carefully about proposal strategy.
Before signing off, though, I’d like to give kudos to Working Title Playwrights and Managing Artistic Director Amber Bradshaw for sponsoring the recent Community-wide Theatre Equality, Diversity, Inclusion (EDI) workshop led by ArtEquity Moderator Carmen Morgan. Participants included several DG members and Bradshaw told me afterward, “We were honored to be able to give theatre artists in Atlanta the opportunity to find ways to be more equitable and inclusive in their writing practice. We want Working Title to be a vessel for people to connect.”
Our Atlanta DG region Ambassadors and I hope to be more involved with this kind of conversation and encourage members to talk to us about ways we might do that.