Ed Sobel, Associate Artistic Director
These Director’s Notes appear in the stagebill for Women in Jep, which runs on the Arden’s Arcadia Stage July 5-15, 2012
The Writers’ Room is a playwright residency program in which a writer is in residence at the Arden for six weeks completing the draft of a new play. A few weeks after completion of the draft, the play is given a workshop and rehearsal process which culminates in public performance.
The program is an attempt to address a number of issues facing our field. As Todd London insightfully documented in his book Outrageous Fortune: The Life And Times of the New American Play, the landscape for the development of new work in the American Theater is vibrant and fertile, but also facing severe challenges. Many playwrights feel alienated from the large institutions presenting their work and the communities to whom it is being presented. They undergo protracted development processes that often do not result in an actual production.
The Writers’ Room is designed to offer the playwright a relationship with the Arden, and the wider Philadelphia community, that is positive and nurturing. We shorten the time between the actual writing of the play and the performance of it, so that the writer is better able to keep in close contact with the creative impulses that originated the work. This new model is an experiment, and as one of the first audiences to see the results, you are joining us in its exploration.
Audiences are central to the program. A group of interested members of the general public signed on for an “Inside The Writers’ Room” pass. The passholders attended a reading of the first draft of the play, a number of rehearsals, technical rehearsal (the period when the design elements – sets, lights, costumes, sound—are integrated into the production) and are seeing the play in performance. By their report, the passholders have been energized by this added exposure to the development and production process, and we have gained insight from their questions and responses.
What you are seeing today is the result of the four-week workshop and rehearsal process. The first week most closely resembled a “workshop” of the play. The actors, sitting at a table, read the play or sections of it, while Wendy and I listened. Wendy made revisions, sometimes minor, sometimes extensive, both in the rehearsal room and between rehearsals. The second week was a transitional week. Wendy continued to revise, as we started to put the play “on its feet”. The last two weeks have more closely resembled a rehearsal process, with all of us gearing our thinking and choices more toward performance. However, we have incorporated opportunities for Wendy to revise the play, up to and including between our two performance weeks.
This bears some external resemblance to the customary process for producing a new play, but it has been qualitatively different in our emphasis on the development of the script. As a play lives not on the page, or even purely in actors reading it aloud, but as an entity on a stage we have included a design process (rudimentary, but we hope, suggestive enough) and now you, an audience.
I thank Wendy for her eagerness to be the first adventurer to occupy The Writers’ Room. I have long admired her work, her sensibility and her dedication to craft. I could not imagine a better collaborative partner. Thanks are also due the actors who approached our work with a spirit of rigorous but generous inquiry; to the design team who have brought skill, ingenuity and thrift; to our Artistic Circle who have welcomed Wendy into the community of artists in Philadelphia, and to our entire staff at the Arden for supporting this addition to our already ambitious season of work.
And thanks to you, our audience, for supporting new work, and for entering this Writers’ Room with the open-hearted faith that you will be moved and entertained by what you see. We hope we’ve delivered on that promise, and that you will be inspired by knowing that by attending today you are being an active participant in the creation of a new work of art.