I occasionally do short interviews with playwrights as part of my gig as the member rep for ScriptWorks, and in the last month or so I did a few of them a little differently, focusing on specific events I’d seen online instead of asking more standard background questions.
Mostly so I can easily reference them somewhere (our archival process is pretty lacking) I’m listing them all here: interviews with Rita Anderson, Joanna Garner, Sarah Loucks and Jelisa Jay Robinson.
**RITA** (July 11, 2017)
Recently I noticed on social media that member Rita Anderson had hosted a couple of play readings at her home. I wanted to ask her how that went for her, and what she thought of the Austin theater scene in general…
I understand you’ve hosted a few readings and events at your house. What inspired you to go this route?
Need (to hear new work out loud). Interest(ed in closed readings in a private setting while work is “under construction”). Desperation (for expediency. NOTHING moves quickly in theatre.)?
What’s been the most challenging aspect of hosting an event at your home?
It takes considerable prep work to host anything, if you do it well. Also, at this juncture, I’m operating as a one-woman band in prepping.
What’s your process of getting actors like?
Luckily, I’m pretty aware (and getting more aware as time progresses) of local talent. [I also have the secret weapon of a few veteran Austinites whom I trust for recommendations, if I get stuck or am on the fence.] I read a script and picture who might best embody a role—then I just ask the actors if they’re interested/available to participate. The response has been overwhelmingly positive! For the last two events (April and June), I approached directors and they assembled the casts. That ingredient not only took off some of the burden but also I learned a lot about casting, primarily that, as a playwright, I cast differently than directors do. They seem to have a knack for essence, and I tend to cast more stereotypically, I guess.
Do you provide snacks?
Absolutely. It’s the least I can do to thank the actors/directors for their time. Plus, it gives us a little time to relax and be social. I’m also super-relational by nature, and relationship-building is critical for the trust needed to create good art.
You and I have talked about the lack of theatrical space in Austin. Do you think this problem will get worse? Or do you see it improving at some point?
It is a bit terrifying, yes—especially because I moved to Austin from San Antonio a year and a half ago FOR theatre/new works. My bottom line is, I like where we live and I don’t want to “flee” to NYC or Chicago in order to do it. A wiser person than me recently said, basically, in all troublesome issues, you have two choices—to CURSE or to INVEST. So, I’m investing. I want to stay here and to help fight to find and/or create new venues for art, if that’s where we are as a community.
Is there any significant piece of advice you’d give to other playwrights who might be considering hosting his or her own in-home reading?
Just that (a) you are not alone: try to connect with other, like-minded artists you want to work with and admire, (b) don’t ask too much or be “production-only” focused straight out of the gate: Let the readings be their own things, and (c) there is nothing new, really, about these intimate gatherings as stand-alone artistic experiences. In playwriting travels, I’ve participated in many such theatrical events from conferences (ATHE, ASTR, CDC) to writing retreats that culminated in Chamber Readings (Creede, CO, etc.).