The holidays mark the start of Awkward Social Gathering season. Who decided that uncomfortable conversations with strangers in tinsel strewn rooms was the way to celebrate? This year in Seattle, we decided to take the obligatory holiday party and turn it on its head.
Instead of the much-hated cocktail party, we held a Holiday Party Play Challenge. On Saturday at 10am, all participants were sent a two-word prompt – “snow” and “Seattle.” They then had a little over 24-hours to write a three-page, five-minute play. As one DG member shared after the event, the deadline, restricted scope, and prompts helped to focus her, and this piece was one of the first plays she had completed in years.
The following day, over 22 playwrights showed up with scripts in hand to the Palace Theatre and Art Bar, a gem in historic Georgetown (the only neighborhood of Seattle that didn’t burn in the 1888 fire.) The owners of the bar have dedicated themselves to providing an inclusive safe space to playwrights, musicians, artists, photographers, burlesque/boylesque, and drag performers, and they generously donated their cabaret stage to our members for our show.
Word was sent out via Seattle’s art scene that we needed actors, and they showed up aplenty to share their time and talents. Playwrights had half an hour to cast their shows from anyone in the room. A few playwrights even brought some ringers, including one who was visiting from out of town to see her daughter performing and managed to get her to squeeze in a quick performance on the Palace stage before her evening call.
Over the span of two hours, we drew the performance order from a hat and threw these vignettes onstage. They were delightful and the breadth of topics was staggering – from cozy couples snowed in, to the Snow Queen and Jack Frost having it out.
Following the Holiday Play Party Challenge, members were invited to upload their plays to the New Play Exchange, and an email was sent out with the list to our local membership so they could read what their fellow artists had created. Many of our participating playwrights have reported that they have also used these three-page pieces as a launching point and have expanded them into larger plays.
The Holiday Play Party Challenge gave us the opportunity to meet our fellow playwrights on a deeper level than the surface handshakes and small talk of a typical holiday party. For playwrights who have felt uncomfortable about finding actors for readings, they walked away with connections and contact information of talented performers hungry for work. We heard each others’ voices and got to know each other on the basis of our art. For the 22 playwrights who shared their work, we got to see the reason why they joined the Dramatists Guild.
As playwright Thomas Pierce (Most Wonderful Time of Year) put it, "I hate holiday parties and usually avoid them. But this party was fun because the focus was on the writing, not the writers. There is no worse social experience than being trapped in a conversation with writers staring glumly into their beers and moaning about rejections. I’ve been both victim and perpetrator. Every DG city should do a party like this. Maybe more than one a year."
A new tradition has definitely been born in our corner of the Pacific Northwest.