By Samuel D. White, director of Hamm in Love and War by Eric Appleton
Through the Wisconsin Wrights New Play Festival for one brief weekend every other season, Forward Theater Company puts the most critical component of contemporary American theater on a pedestal – the playwright. I offer the assertion that theater starts with the playwright. It begins with a lonely, driven soul banging away at a laptop or scrawling illegibly on yellow legal pad desperately trying to transform some image, thought, premise, or dream into a format which someday could be transformed into that three-dimensional, communal effort call a “theatrical production.”
I can attest from personal experience that playwriting is not easy. The attempt often feels lonely and almost futile. There are a lot of playwrights out there and the competition for stage time is ridiculously fierce. Success in the endeavor is tenuous if not impossible, but for some baffling reason we just have to try.
To get a staged, public reading of your new play, especially by a company like Forward, is momentous. The value of hearing your words spoken aloud by talented actors is inexplicable. The actors’ voices and choices, the director’s interpretations, combined with the audience’s reactions inform you more than you can possibly imagine. A staged reading, especially one aimed at play development, concludes with an audience discussion which almost always has completely unexpected results – sometimes wonderful, sometimes not, but always helpful.
I think the result of this process enables playwrights to approach their work with a higher level of practicality and objectivity. Ideas and images once relegated to imagination become almost tangible. It’s no longer an insubstantial expression living inside your mind, it becomes a collective experience, or in other words, it becomes story. And good stories can be retold even better the next time.
So in that way Forward Theater Company’s Wisconsin Wrights New Play Festival is a very special event. The event epitomizes Forward’s “home-based” philosophy – showcasing new plays written by local Wisconsin playwrights, directed and performed by local theater artists, and topped off by engaging our amazingly insightful audience in discussion. Everything we love to do at Forward.
We have three wonderful plays to share this year. They were selected from a record number of submissions. I encourage everyone to see all three. Besides play readings being a unique and engaging type of theatrical experience, an audience member you become an integral part of the creative process. Through your shared perceptions of the performance during the post show discussions, you truly do help write a play.