Chicago by Cheryl Coons
National Reports Map
Dec 20, 2018

What’s the secret of a long and happy life as a writers’ collective? I asked Joanne Koch, Artistic Director of Chicago Writers’ Bloc, and Bob Curry, who leads Playwrights Ink in the Madison, WI area. Both organizations, which meet monthly, were founded in the early 1990’s. 

Bob Curry describes a typical meeting of Playwrights Ink: “We talk for ten minutes or so about what’s worth seeing in town, etc., and then a playwright will pass out a script to actors. We invite local actors to come and read. We read the plays cold and then everyone offers feedback. We encourage positive feedback first, and no prescriptive advice unless the author is open to that.”

Chicago Writers’ Bloc focuses on reading a few scenes from a work in their monthly meetings, then “. . . members comment, trying to make their suggestions as specific as possible,” said Artistic Director Joanne Koch. Chicago Writers’ Bloc also hosts a series of table readings once each year. Koch explains: “. . . directors cast the plays and bring them to the group with a few invited guests. This past summer director/playwright Joan Mazzonelli coordinated table readings of ten new plays. Drawing on these table readings, we present every other year a series of staged readings in a festival of new plays.”

What have they learned from the process of creating and sustaining these groups? Says Koch: “Each playwright may go off and write a script on her or his own, but the best way to develop a script is to have a group to bring scenes to, to get incisive feedback and revise until a draft of the script is done, and through that group to have staged readings of that play or musical. Those staged readings may lead to productions and publications. Even if a particular play doesn’t take off, the presence of the group, the monthly meetings, the promise of other table reads and festivals of staged readings means that new work is always welcome.” 

Curry speaks of the creative stimulation that happens after each monthly session. “I always go home determined to get something done. . . . Of course we all want to write that big play, but it’s a privilege to practice every day almost like a religion.” 

Presenting work is a focus of the Chicago Writers’ Bloc, as Koch says. “Over these 28 years, we estimate that Chicago Writers’ Bloc has brought more than 250 new plays to Chicago area audiences, with a number of these plays going on to productions in Chicago and in other parts of the country, including off-Broadway, East Coast, Midwest, West Coast, and publications by Dramatic Publishing, Smith & Kraus, Brooklyn Play Publishers and others.”

For Playwrights Ink the focus is less on showcasing work, however the organization has successfully produced five years of summer shorts that were well-attended. As Curry says, “Madison has become a very competitive theater town and the work has to be really good to get an audience. We want to display good work and not put on vanity productions.” Connect with Playwrights Ink on Facebook at: 

Three Brothers Theatre in Waukegan, IL has just launched a new playwrights residency that combines both the idea of creating community and showcasing work. Executive Director Josh Beadel describes the initiative as “a two-year residency built around getting playwrights produced. Our residents meet once a month to discuss such topics as playwright marketing, finding an agent . . . and other related topics. Each month we also read one playwright’s script. Residents are guaranteed one public reading each year of the residency as well as one production slot during the course of the residency.” Resident playwright Madelyn Sergel says, “There is such a narrow path to production opportunity, developing one’s business acumen as a playwright is vital. The fact that each playwright will receive not only a public reading and other career education, but Three Brothers will also give each playwright a full production, that is truly unique.”

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