New England: East: Better and Stronger
Courtney Sale, artistic director of Merrimack Repertory Theatre
Courtney Sale, artistic director of Merrimack Repertory Theatre. Photo by Kevin Harkins.

Like every other region, ours has struggled mightily since the pandemic. And, like the rest of the theatre world, we’ve been forced to move our activities online for time being.

We got off to a quick start—at the beginning of April, our ambassador for Cape Cod, JOE PAPRZYCKI, had planned for me to give an in-person talk about marketing for playwrights, but we ended up shifting it to a zoom presentation. We had a good turnout, though we were already wondering whether it actually made sense to still submit scripts while theatres were scrambling for their very existence. The jury is still out on that, though there are now many Zoom and other online opportunities available.

In May, we put together the Tuesday Toolbox Series. These were online peer-to-peer talks about various playwriting software tools. I started with a session on Scrivener, the program I use for drafting new plays. Its ability to manage multiple types of source material is especially useful for research-heavy material. Scrivener can have a steep learning curve, and it needs to be paired with an additional final output program, but it’s my tool of choice. The following week, Maine Ambassador ANDREA LEPCIO joined me to talk about using Final Draft for writing plays. She and I have been using it for years and find its ability to “lock pages” especially helpful in rehearsal/development. From his home in Indianapolis, MARK HARVEY LEVINE led another session about using Microsoft Word for writing plays. Boston playwright KEN GREEN introduced us to CeltX, a low-cost (often free) program with many similar features to Final Draft and good collaboration capability. Writer Duet was demo’d for us by KEVIN BLEAU and David Schrag—as a team of musical writers, they were attracted to it by its strong collaboration features. Finally, we completed the series with a session on submission tracking, with me, Mark Harvey Levine, and DONNA HOKE, talking about three different strategies, of varying complexity—though the overall message was to use whatever makes you comfortable, as long as you’re tracking what you’re sending. If you missed these talks in May, most of them are now available on the Dramatists Guild website (under Webinars and Media).

We gathered on Zoom again in September to welcome Courtney Sale, the new artistic director of Merrimack Repertory Theatre. Coming to us from the Seattle Children’s Theatre, Courtney brings a wealth of experience developing new plays, as well as a strong commitment to maintain the focus on new plays established at MRT by previous artistic director Sean Daniels. She also has had a long-time presence at the Contemporary American Theatre Festival in West Virginia. Courtney arrived at MRT just as the pandemic began, so she’s been challenged in the extreme. But she’s already establishing relationships with other theatres in the region (I see her on Zoom calls all the time), so when things finally re-open she’ll be able to hit the ground running. She’s looking for plays with small casts and big ideas. We’re fortunate to have a new artistic director on the scene who seems interested in getting to know and work with local artists.

Boston theatre has had its share of turmoil over the past months, but there’s also sense of the community pulling together. The Theatre Community Benevolent Fund has awarded more than $185,000 to local theatre artists in need, and there are frequent community check-in meetings led by StageSource. A new regular online gathering of Greater Boston Artistic Directors (GBAD) meets biweekly to talk about anti-racist practices, as well as re-opening and pandemic response guidelines. GBAD just held a day-long retreat, with some great information shared about virtual theatre and an emerging new play festival. We’ll find our way through this and hopefully come out better and stronger.