As I write this, summer is ending with just a handful of professional theatres announcing live in-person performances this fall. By the time you are reading this, 2021 will be approaching. What will the state of our industry be then? Will there be improved virtual techniques that will make us feel like we are theatre-making? Or will the abyss still be open and wide?
We reached out to three theatres known for producing new plays to see how they were faring and how they are feeling about the future. We checked in with J. Sibley Law and Orna Rawls, co-founders of SquareWrights, Stratford, CT (SW); DANIEL ELIHU KRAMER, Producing Artistic Director, Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA (CTC); and Taneisha Duggan, Producing Associate, TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT (TW).
How have you continued to support the development of new plays during the pandemic?
CTC: We had commissioned a play that we intended to premiere this summer. The pandemic halted development. We’ve recently gone back into that process. The playwright will be a residency this fall. We also co-produced a virtual reading of a new play.
SW: SquareWrights has continued to meet via Zoom, regularly having actors read new works by members. We ran a series of radio plays and are publishing a collection of new short plays by members inspired by the topic of Resilience. All proceeds will support Sterling House, which runs our local food bank.
TW: We’ll be doing our first commission with the work of Harrison David Rivers.
Are you forging new relationships with playwrights, or using this time to further develop writers you already work with?
CTC: We have focused at present on further developing writers we already work with.
SW: Our activities have fostered new works by the playwrights who were members prior to the pandemic. We have not found new ways to find and develop new members, but we would love to.
TW: Forging new relationships. SARAH GANCHER, JAMES ANTHONY TYLER, and the team behind Mr. Parent are all new collaborators.
Has the way you work with playwrights and new work changed? More commissions? More submissions? Has the type of work you look for shifted?
CTC: We’ve received about the same number of submissions. We are, more than ever, looking for plays that engage with the racist policies, practices and realities of this country. We are also looking for plays that remind us of what we share when we come together.
SW: Our playwrights tell us that one of the most helpful things is our scene nights where actors read a short play, or a portion of a full-length play and a facilitator directs a feedback session with attendees. That continues to be a focus of our regular virtual meetings.
TW: Yes, first commission in our history. Yes, more submissions and submissions that relate to digital/virtual theatre. Yes, we’re trying to prepare for all possible situations—full return to COVID lockdown and remote performances, to a return to in-person but small audience showings.
What’s the future for new plays at your theatre look like right now?
CTC: We were in the process of moving toward more new plays, and we plan to continue that movement.
SW: Our focus is solely on fostering new work by our playwrights. When the pandemic ends, our members crave a return to in-person showcases and productions of our work. Having said that, the pandemic has forced us to find new ways to get our work in front of audiences. We will likely continue with some of those opportunities long after the pandemic has ended.
TW: Bright… With all that’s happening, we are embracing innovation and the future.