In November, Dramatists Guild Michigan held a series of Meet & Greets via Zoom hosted by CATHERINE ZUDAK, the incoming DG Regional Rep. EMILIO RODRIGUEZ, the new Ambassador for Detroit/Southeast area, and STEVE FEFFER, the long serving Ambassador for the Grand Rapids/Southwest area, served as co-hosts for their respective regions.
Across the state, DG members endured cancellations of performance, readings, and workshops of their work due to COVID. However, for many members, the shutdown offered new creative possibilities. DG members ANITA GONZALEZ, EMILIO RODRIGUEZ, and JOSE CASAS, along with two other Michigan dramatists (Holli Sinn and Shawntai Brown) are crafting new plays on the same theme as part of the Vagrancy Project. Their collaboration will culminate in a summer reading festival.
Other dramatists found new connections outside of Michigan. From Hawaii to Georgia to Tennessee and New York, Deborah Johnston, ARNOLD JOHNSTON, DIANE SHIPLEY DECILLIS, and DAVID PHAM, among others, had plays performed, workshopped or read via Zoom. These productions never would have taken place without the shutdown. Additionally, some Michigan dramatists like JEFF FRENCH have used this time to revisit older work and passion projects. TIM GLINSKI said he had never written as much as he has during COVID. He credits his productivity to weekly, online writing groups, including a group that grew out of a DG Playwriting Intensive at The Kennedy Center.
The summer brought plenty of regional Zoom opportunities as Michigan theatres went digital, including Theatre Nova, Neighborhood Theatre Group, and A2CT. About half of the Meet & Greet participants, including Hank Greenspan, wrote new works specifically for Zoom or adapted older works to the medium. Participants like MATT HARMON shared lessons learned, including the need to get savvy about digital contracts. Emilio Rodriguez found borrowing ideas from other digital formats like Instagram enhanced his Zoom productions. While few dramatists were excited about Zoom as a separate art form, the ability to collaborate nationally and even internationally with diverse artists, is something most hope to continue in the future.
The Meet & Greets also offered some insights into the needs of Michigan dramatists going forward. Isolation was a pre-COVID issue with many dramatists unaware of fellow Guild members in their area or the wide variety of resources offered by the Guild. Some knew of and had received help from Business Affairs, but fewer had explored the DG’s podcasts, webinars, or the “Find a Collaborator” link.
There is also a need to engage with student playwrights. Steve Feffer invited his playwriting class to the Grand Rapids/SW Michigan Meet & Greet. Most of them were unfamiliar with the Guild. One student tuned in from Pakistan at 4:30am, her time, to learn more about DG programs. (Dr. Feffer is an English professor at Western Michigan University)
Another need is strengthening connections between the Guild and regional theatres. Many Michigan dramatists are also directors, producers, educators and arts administrators for a wide variety of theatres and production companies across the state, but these efforts are often quite separate from their identity as Guild members. There is a real opportunity for DG members to encourage regional theatres to welcome and support playwrights and their professional development.