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  • Inflexible Dynamo

Development, Part XVII

In my endless quest for places to send my scintillating scribblings, I routinely come across opportunities for play development. Most of these places are unfamiliar to me; I don't know who runs them, I don't know what they mean by “development.” I cannot comment on their programs without having experienced what they have to offer and I do not know what they try to achieve without knowing what their programs consist of. I do apply to most, however, because I have work that has been written, rewritten, rewritten a few more times and is now in a state equal to staring at a word on a page until it becomes a collection of meaningless hieroglyphics and ceases to have any meaning whatsoever. When I get to a certain point of revision, I then stare at an entire play and wonder what any of it means.

Okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration. I'm a dramatic writer; hyperbole comes easy to me.

The concept is the same, however, and my history with the practice of developmental workshopping is a largely favorable one. Most of my plays have been through a professional workshopping experience with dramaturgs who understand how plays work--not just on the page, but on the stage as well. Understanding both is critical because having a play that reads grippingly on the page is one thing, but as many of us know, translating that text to a real production brings with it myriad problems, adjustments, and quite possibly, rewrites. Some development programs are quite famous and many of us are familiar with their names. Others are not so well known, but may very well offer a program that could benefit many of the plays ready for the process. (I say “could” because, like Speedos, not every program fits every play or playwright.)

In my mind, knowing my own writing process pros and cons, and knowing full well that what looks beautiful in my own head may not translate as clearly and dazzlingly to others, I have to approach each development opportunity as a blank slate. I cannot expect every program to fit me or my work like the aforementioned Speedo. I have to be prepared to take from the program that which I believe benefits my work while also being prepared to pass on those things that I think are not appropriate.

The success or failure of any development process ultimately resides with the playwright. I can recommend several director/dramaturgs that I have worked with right now whose judgment I rely on and who I would work with again in an instant. With each process I have benefitted greatly and yet I have also had instances where I have had to reject some of their ideas and suggestions.

I'm a working playwright. I apply for as many development opps as I can. They are opportunities for dramatic growth and I always seek out an objective alternative to the On-Tuesday-It's Brilliant-On-Wednesday-It's-Shit nightmare I have to go through. It's not easy by any means, but I'm willing to bet that every development experience a playwright goes through makes them a better writer in some way.

Oh, and by the way...I wrote a book on the subject. If you're unfamiliar with development, you might want to give it a read: Workshopping the New Play: A Guide for Playwrights, Directors, and Dramaturgs.

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