by Karen Moeller
One of the things I'm often asked is, "How do you pick your plays?" I love to hear this question. It means our audiences are engaged and interested in the plays we present, or that they were surprised to discover and fall in love with a play they had never heard of before and are wondering where in the heck we found it. To that end, we work hard to read and consider as many scripts as we can so that we can continue to present the plays that will truly speak to you, our audience.
A key part of this process is our Literary Committee. Made up of actors, designers, writers and dramaturgs, this committee reads and discusses in depth over 60 plays a year. We check out the Pulitzer and Tony Award nominees and winners; look at what other top theaters in the country are doing; comb through reviews and research playwrights; read new works; and take suggestions from our audience, staff, cast members, Board members, creative and production teams, and fellow artists. I've always enjoyed reading scripts -- I was that annoying student in lit class who always wanted yet one more play by Shakespeare or Chekhov on the syllabus. (Actually, I've still managed to remain annoying in this regard, as I often read many of the plays we are considering twice.) And it's even more fulfilling (and fun) to read scripts with the purpose of helping to find the plays that might make their way into a future Forward season.
Each play is read and evaluated by at least three members of the Literary Committee, then discussed at the monthly meeting. And the discussions don't just concern the scripts themselves. We talk about the success and reviews of past productions, as well as other works by the playwright. We even put some writers on our "to watch" list, in order to get an early look at any new works they create. If the reaction after this initial discussion is positive, it's then read by the committee as a whole (currently seven permanent and two rotating members). From there, plays needing further consideration are read by our Advisory Company, where Artistic Director Jen Gray weighs in as well. A short list forms, and in time, a new season begins to take shape.
Without the Literary Committee, the number of scripts to which we could give this much consideration would be significantly lower. As a member of the Committee since it began, I've treasured the opportunity to read so many great works. There have been dramas that have left me sobbing, or that have made me run to the computer to research a particular topic. There are the comedies that drive my husband crazy because I keep interrupting whatever he's doing to read him another funny bit. There are the plays that I've wanted to turn around and read again the moment I finished because I just can't bear to say good-bye to the characters. And when I read a play that makes me think," This could be perfect for Forward and for our audiences in Madison," it's magical.