The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
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Polly K. Carl
Polly K. Carl, Ph.D.
Producing Artistic Director, The Playwrights' Center

photo by Keri Pickett
*1   The Playwrights’ Center’s facility includes a state-of-the-art 120-seat "Waring Jones Theater", a rehearsal/meeting room, and a spacious office with a conference room and guest computers for visiting playwrights' use.
The Playwrights’ Center


*2   Regional theaters (also called resident theaters) in the United States are nonprofit professional theater companies that produce their own seasons. The term “regional” was used to distinguish theater companies and theater facilities with resident theater companies based outside of New York City. Regional Theaters expanded in its collective presence in the early 1960s with major funding from the Ford Foundation (1959) as well as the founding of the Guthrie Theater (1963). The term regional theater has become often used to refer to members of the League of Resident Theatres (LORT) who agree to adhere to a collective bargaining agreement with Actors' Equity Association and other labor union for actors the theater artists.


*3   The Guthrie Theater was founded in the city of Minneapolis, MN, by Sir Tyrone Guthrie in 1963 as the first regional theater with a resident acting company that would perform the classics in rotating repertory with the highest professional standards. After four decades, the original Guthrie closed down and moved to a new location by the Mississippi River to open a new theater complex with three different stages in 2006.


*4   PlayLabs is held every July for two weeks to develop new plays through workshops and public staged readings. Playwrights, Dramaturges, Theater Directors, and Actor spend 30 hours in collaboration to develop scripts and showcase the result to theater professionals and general audience through public staged-readings. In recent years, five to eight playwrights are selected to develop their scripts. The 2008 PlayLabs will be its 26th anniversary season.
PlayLabs
Elaine Romero working on a play at The Playwrights' Center
Clockwise from far right:
Playwright Elaine Romero, Polly Carl, Annie Enneking, Casey Grieg, Shawn Hamilton, and dramaturg Liz Engelman.


*5   “Core Writers” are considered as a group of leading playwrights at PWC. They are selected by a national panel, independent from PWC. “Core Writers” receive special services such as the posting of their bio and sample works on the PWC website and priority access to teaching opportunities at colleges and universities. The number of “Core Writers” in recent years varies between 30 and 40.
Presenter Interview
2008.6.20
The Playwrights' Center of Minneapolis, encouraging US-Japan theater exchange as a resource supporting the development of playwrights 
 
The Playwrights’ Center (PWC) in Minneapolis is recognized as the largest resource for playwrights in the U.S. Through its research and development workshops, called “Labs,” the Center develops 40 to 50 plays a year. Since 2006, the Center has also conducted a 3-year Japan-U.S. Contemporary Plays and Playwrights Exchange Project with cooperation from the Japan Cultural Trade Network (CTN) and the Saison Foundation. CTN director Kyoko Yoshida speaks with PWC’s Producing Artistic Director Dr. Polly K. Carl about the Center’s activities.
(Interview: Kyoko Yoshida, Director, U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network, Inc.)


The Playwrights’ Center (hereafter, “PWC” *1) is recognized as the largest resource for playwrights in the U.S. First, please talk about the genesis of the Center.
    The Playwrights Center was founded in 1971, which was the time when the regional theaters (*2) were emerging and the big theaters like the Guthrie (*3) were still in their infancy. A group of playwrights who were taking classes at the University of Minnesota thought, “We need to make a place where playwrights and their works are at the fore of the process.” That’s really the genesis of the organization. The five writers including Barbara Field and John Olive started to do readings and create small opportunities to develop plays without much money and that snowballed to become this much larger institution.

Why was it in Minneapolis, a regional city in the Midwest, not in the metropolitan cities of the East or the West Coast that PWC was founded and developed?
    I think that because of the Guthrie which opened in 1963, there was an active and growing theater scene in Minneapolis. The Guthrie attracted top rate directors and actors, and in response, playwrights intended to create a milieu where they could get supported. Also Minnesota has always valued culture and artistic creation, and there have been always been financial resources to support it.

Thirty seven years after the inception, what kind of programs does PWC provide today?
    I’d like to say that there are three paths to the PWC and some off-shoots from the three paths. The first path is a laboratory, or “Lab”. This includes PlayLabs (*4), which is considered to be our national face. In the laboratory, we develop somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 to 50 plays a year. That means that the 40 to 50 playwrights get an in-depth opportunity to work with actors, directors, designers, and dramaturges. In my mind, the Lab is the heart of our work. We call it our Ruth Easton Lab as we got funding in recent years from a major donor to increase the capacity of the Lab.
    The second path to access PWC is through fellowships. We re-grant to playwrights and theater artists over $200,000 a year. That’s another way that we work with both emerging and established playwrights and theater artists.
    The third way that one accesses the Playwrights’ Center is through what we call a general membership. We have 700 to 800 general members today and they pay an annual fee and get various information from us. They get writers’ opportunities, and they get to hear top people in the field do blogs, etc and converse on line. It’s mainly online services. That’s a way for us to keep people attached to the field of playwriting. Anyone can participate with us that way. Even someone who hasn’t written a play can become a member. For a lot of writers who are emerging or beginning it’s a way of staying inspired and knowing where to apply for grants, and staying connected to professionals talking about the field.

Please talk more in details about the Labs.
    PWC’s Lab provides the best possible R&D (Research and Development) for the playwrights and their plays. We try in the best way we can to develop the play to get it production-ready. Collaborators bring vision to the process, but when we bring in directors, dramaturges, actors and designers to the process, our goal is to have the playwright’s voice be at the fore during the time that the play exists here.
    My limited experience in working in Japan is, and this is not unusual in the U.S. as well, that theater can be a very director driven experience where the directors find their own sense about the play. However, while the play is here at PWC, it is really about development of the script and bringing excellence to that script. In the context of American theater, scripts live by themselves out in the world, not attached to the writers. The writer sends them out and theaters/producers look at them, so, we have to try to get as much excellence on the page as we can.

How do you select which plays to develop at the PlayLabs, the largest lab of the PWC?
    The history of selecting PlayLabs scripts has been that we would get may be 300 to 400 scripts, and we would whittle down that group to five to develop in the PlayLabs. Anyone can apply for a fee, and we will read a sample of your script first, then, go through the rounds: semi-finalists and finalists. The selection panel consists of directors, dramaturges, and playwrights. For PlayLabs, after long discussions with the panel, I make the ultimate decision on the line-up with a lot of input from colleagues in the field. We are in a position now because the organization has grown so much that probably PlayLabs will become a reflection of the Core Writers Program (*5) that the two programs will merge so that basically, we will develop plays of our core writers at PlayLabs.

I understand that about 80% of the plays developed at the PlayLabs will get fully produced eventually, which I think is truly phenomenal. - For example, Jordan Harrison's “Finn in the Underworld”, and Lee Blessing 's “Body of Water” most recently went on to full production following development at PlayLabs.
    Of course, we are very interested in having plays produced that come from our Lab. Obviously, the ultimate success for us is production. But first and foremost, we develop playwrights. We don’t pick a play to develop because we think that it’ll get a production. We put our faith in writers. We develop playwrights and we hope that what will emerge from that is really good plays that will get produced and that’s generally been the case.
    Most theaters, however, are going, “Is this play good for the market?” and/or “Will my audience like this play?” Whereas we’re just saying, “This playwright has an exciting voice, and we want to develop the script.” And we start there. So, you’ll see that the work we do has a broad range in terms of its aesthetic diversity. It can be a kitchen sink drama, it can be very experimental, or, it can be a musical.

What I’m hearing is that all PWC programs are coming from the philosophy and based on the policy of what is the best way to support and nurture the playwrights and their talents.
    Yes. Since its inception, we are driven by the vision of the playwrights and all PWC programs are implemented with this as the guiding principle.
 
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