Author Archives: Stefan Lanfer

Announcing Plays and Playwrights for our 44th Annual Festival!

April 14th, 2016 by

We are pleased to announce the plays and playwrights for our 44th Annual Festival of New Plays!

1. FAST CASUAL by David Susman
2. WATER by Greg Hovanesian
3. SAVING FACE by Margie Semilof
4. THE DEBT by Charlie Edwin Fisher
5. DEATH IN VENICE BEACH by Hortense Gerardo
6. PITCHFEST by Patti Cassidy
7. DOG PARK AFTERNOON by Nancy Temple
8. NEMATODES by Ron Radice
9. IT’S ALL CRAP by George Smart
10. THE SISTERS by Sherri Stepakoff
11. THEATRE PEOPLE by Jack Rushton
12. NO DOMINION by Lawrence “Nick” Hennessey

A terrific mix of work by both new and veteran members, comedies, dramas, and everything in between. The Festival will be held over the first weekend in June at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre. Stay tuned (here on our blog and on our Festival Page) for details about which plays will be on which nights and how to buy tickets.

Congrats, playwrights!  We can’t wait to see your work come alive on stage.

My what a year! A 2015 #NewPlay Highlight Reel

December 28th, 2015 by

2015-phlebotomist (5)
As 2015 winds to a close, I asked members to share a few of their theatrical highlights from the year. Here is a sampling:
New productions of new plays, including at the:
  • FemNoire 2015 festival
  • Silver Springs Stage Co
  • ATHE New Play Development Series
  • Winthrop School of Performing Arts
  • MBL Club
  • Piney Forks at the New York Public Library
  • Hollywood
  • Aberdeen, Scotland
  • Boston Theatre Marathon XVII (two entries by members!)
Other artistic highlights:
  • A documentary film version of one member’s short story, which had been published in the the “REMEMBER US!” compilation book was premiered before the United Nations in NYC
  • A Packard Foundation Writing Residency at the Lemon Tree House, Tuscany, Italy
  • A Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship in Dramatic Writing
  • A workshop on marketing tips for playwrights with Pat Gabridge.
  • Another great workshop on craft with Kate Snodgrass – on great endings of great plays
  • New members
  • New actors in our resident actors company
  • Packed houses for three nights at our 43rd annual festival of new plays
  • The first-ever publication of a compilation of new works in the festival.

Book cover image

My what a year!

Happy New year to all!

Here’s to breaking more legs in 2016…

Take our 2015 Festival Home with You

June 6th, 2015 by

Each year, an independent reading committee selects a vibrant collection of member scripts to be produced in our annual festival. These new short plays include comedies and dramas that directed and performed by local artists, including many from our talented Actors-in-Residence program. In concert with our June, 2015 festival  - our 43rd (!) – are thrilled to offer a published compilation of eight of the nine short plays, now available via Amazon.com, at:  http://tinyurl.com/qy3kjbe.

Book cover image

Since 1972, the Playwrights’ Platform has been helping Boston-area playwrights hone their craft, and advance their work from page to stage. At twice-monthly meetings during the academic year, our members gather to hear unrehearsed readings of new works, and to share reactions, critiques, and ideas.  This book represents our first-ever publication, and the Platform extends its gratitude to Hortense Gerardo, Honorary Board Chair and one of this year’s featured playwrights, for the initiative and leadership in bringing this idea to fruition.

All proceeds from sales of this book directly support the Playwrights’ Platform. We are an all-volunteer nonprofit that depends each year on membership fees, donations, and festival ticket sales to raise our modest operating budget.  All of our meetings are free and open to the public. Visitors and new members are always welcome.

Thank you for your investment in new theatre! We hope you enjoy these plays as much as we have.

Sincerely,

Stefan Lanfer

President

The Playwright’s Three P’s – Marketing Wisdom from Pat Gabridge

February 13th, 2015 by

“The best thing you can do for your own career is help others.” – Pat Gabridge

At our January 25th meeting, Playwrights’ Platform members were treated to a terrific talk and discussion with Boston Playwright, Pat Gabridge, on strategies to more effectively market and promote our work.  As highlights, I offer the Playwright’s Three P’s:

Be present (and patient)

Effective networking and relationship building means being present and accounted for (both in person and virtually) as much as possible. Patrick highlighted several of the many opportunities to do this in Boston, like at StageSource’s Boston Theatre Conference, Boston Theatre Marathon, New Play Alliance, HowlRound’s #newplay Twitter chats, and attending lots of local theatre. And when you go, be accounted for. Tweet about it. Go during previews and opening nights, when you can meet and engage with directors and production teams after the show.  Tell them what you liked about their work. Patrick also reminded us to be patient. Developing relationships that open doors for a playwright’s work takes time. It’s like dating, he said. You can’t go too fast.  Don’t start by pitching your script. Start with coffee, conversation, building connection.

Be positive, a force for new plays

When you’re out there, engaging, and being present, be positive about other’s work. One example Patrick gave was social media, where he recommended maintaining at least 7:1 balance, where, for every one piece of news you share about yourself and your own work, you should be sharing seven or more that are you engaging, commenting, praising, and promoting other’s new work. “The best thing you can do for your career,” Patrick encouraged us all, “is to help others” and be a positive force for new plays.

Be perspicacious about those submission piles

Theatre is a relationship business. So, there’s no beating being present, personal, positive, and active in your local theatre community. Yet, even when submitting to far flung contests, festivals, and theatres, there are ways a playwright can increase their odds. Patrick talked us through the critical four (which he also blogged about at: “What are the Playwriting Odds (and the 4 ways writers can improve their chances)):

  1. Write better plays.
  2. Enter the right piles.
  3. Enter smaller piles.
  4. Enter more piles.

Our thanks to Patrick for a terrific discussion, and reminder of what an exciting time it is to be a playwright in Boston.

A Finale of One-Minute Holiday Plays, and Our 2014 By The Numbers

December 8th, 2014 by

Last night, for the Holiday Party portion of our final meeting of 2014, we were treated to five one-minute Holiday plays – a growing tradition at Playwright’s Platform. Here’s a recap…

From Nick Hennesey, a New Year’s Eve countdown of unrequited love, because of his love, not for another her, but him–self, that is (and the power of suggestion is strong!).

From Vickie Meagher, A Christmas hacking of a reclusive superstar’s Twitter account, for the best gift ever to his #1 fan – a direct message.

From Marika Barnett, the post-holiday party, middle-of-the-night pillow talk of an amorous couple that turns out not to be–a couple (but he can hope).

From Margie Semilof, a last minute shopping encounter, Christmas Eve, at a hardware store, where the surly cashier turns therapist.

From Sandra Weintraub, a Christmas Eve confrontation between Santa Klaus and his irate wife, who knows what that scoundrel is REALLY up to every year at this time, and has had enough. Hand over that GPS, buster, or else…!

All in all, a terrific, creative, fun finale to a full year of playwriting. On my way back to the city from Lasell College on the T, I started thinking back on other playwriting highlights of 2014 for the Platform and its members. With some help this morning from Google to fill in the details, here is our 2014 by the numbers…

All that and more I certainly missed. Congrats and thanks to all for another great year of helping playwrights go from the page to the stage.

The Art of Saying No

June 10th, 2014 by

The no thank you note said other things too. But two words stood apart:

“Please refrain.”

“In the future, please refrain from submitting your work…” was their fuller context.

Over the years I have been writing and submitting plays, I have received a few memorable replies beginning, “Congratulations!”  Most, however, say, in so many words, thank you, but no thank you.

Rejection

Rejection goes with the territory, I know. And I know it both from the artist’s and gatekeeper’s side of the gate. During stints at Long Wharf Theatre and Seattle Repertory Theatre, I churned out dozens of no thank yous by the day. Yet in thousands of thin envelopes sent and received, I have never used or seen a phrase quite like “Please refrain.”

Too fantastically tone deaf to take personally, too great a plot turn in one play’s epic journey, and too unmissable as subject for a reflection here, I replied, as I nearly always do: “Thank you for considering my work and for letting me know.” Then I wished them well, and left it at that.

But I didn’t leave off thinking about that phrase, until there formed in my mind three guiding principles for a graceful no:

1. Show gratitude and care

A play is, as any creative work is to its creator, like a beloved child. To the beholder, it may be an ugly child, an awkward child, a misfit, even offensive child. Yet, it is a child nonetheless, offered up by one who knows he must depend on others for it grow into the fullness he alone now sees. A graceful no shows gratitude and care for so precious a gift.

2. Acknowledge the inspiration and “general beauty”

Even the most crudely constructed piece of art had inspiration. It sprang from something that compelled an artist to create and share it with the world. William Ball, stage director and founder of the American Conservatory Theatre, spoke of the “general beauty” in all art. There may be little to applaud in the execution. Yet, there was always inspiration. Acknowledge that and the glimmer of general beauty.

3. Tread carefully on hope

Add my name to your do-not-pass-go list. Relegate my future submissions, unopened, to your recycling bin or junk mail file. Eventually, I will stop troubling you so. Yet, do not trifle with my hopes. The creative life is so rife with disappointments, hope (even the vain kind) is sometimes all that sustains. Tread carefully on it.

Here is the formula:

Dear [FirstName],

Thank you for sharing [PlayTitle] with us. We found it to be a [novel/creative/intriguing or some other generous adjective] treatment of [concept/issue or story-summarizing phrase]. While we will not be pursuing [PlayTitle] for [TheatreName], we wish you all success with it and your future work.

Sincerely,

[Signature]

[PrintedName+Title]

Please feel free to adapt and improve upon this template. Please refrain only from including phrases like, “please refrain.”

Caution! Therapy in Progress!

May 26th, 2014 by

Caution Therapy in Progress Image

In the summer of 2012, a New York Times cover photo caught my eye. It was of a lecture hall full of grey haired men women, all smiling, laughing, and raising their arms in giddy triumph. The accompanying article, “Physicists Find Elusive Particle Seen as Key to Universe“ was about something called the Large Hadron Collider, sub-atomic particles, and theoretical physics. I was utterly confused, but also intrigued. In the weeks that followed, I read more about this $9 billion dollar tunnel 100 meters below the Swiss-French border, designed to accelerate and smash together sub-atomic particles in hopes of detecting evidence of something called a Higgs Boson, which had, for decades been the basis of theoretical physics, but had not, until that day caught in that New York Times photograph been proven. In the popular press, the Large Hadron Collider project was commonly referred to as a quest for the “God Particle.” Some feared that, if it worked, it would create a black hole that would swallow the earth. At some point in my reading, I came to concepts of anti-matter, and dark matter I hadn’t heard since high school physics. It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but turns out to be the invisible, undetectable (until now) building blocks mass, and the keys to unlocking new physics beyond the “Standard Model.”

I was completely out of my depth. Yet, something in it all got me thinking of relationships, complete with their own hidden truths, their dark-matter subtext that governs all. And I wondered at what it takes to release such power, and to make the invisible visible?

That was the spark of my short play, Hadron Collision Therapy, where marriage therapy meets particle physics. In a different lecture hall at Lasell College in Newton, I hosted two separate readings of early drafts, and collected ideas for improving it from my fellow Playwrights’ Platform members.

Playwrights Platform meeting - February 2014

In December, 2013, in the basement of the Drama Book Shop in New York City, Fresh PRODUCE’d gave the play a workshop. Earlier this May, at the Wimberly Stage in Boston’s South End, the Charlestown Working Theatre pulled off the first fully-produced collision as part of the Boston Theatre Marathon.

It was fantastic.

If you missed those fleeting events (or caught them and want to see it again to grasp at the deeper mysteries), fear not. More collisions are scheduled for this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night in a new production directed by Bryn Boice, and starring Michelle Dowd, Tricia O’Toole, and Ben Stanton, as part of the 42nd Annual Summer Festival of the Playwrights’ Platform at the Boston Playwrights Theatre.

For tickets, click here.

Stefan Lanfer

Great Beginnings

April 16th, 2014 by

What makes the beginnings of great plays great? What gets audiences leaning in from the moment lights go up? What keeps that theatre literary manager (or intern) from putting your script down after they draw it from the slush pile?

Last Sunday, a dozen Playwrights’ Platform members explored these questions in a workshop with Kate Snodgrass, Artistic Director of the Boston Playwright’s Theatre. We read the opening pages of Death of a Salesman, Hamlet, and Arcadia. After each line or two of dialogue or stage direction, we discussed all that was packed into them.

Monomoy Theatre Production Photo, “Death of a Salesman”

Monomoy Theatre Production Photo, “Death of a Salesman”

In these opening pages, we saw worlds in balance thrown out of balance, hero’s set on their journeys, and great urgency unleashed. At one point, Platform president, George Smart offered this synthesis, “Don’t waste a moment!”

“That’s right,” said Kate. “In the opening pages, you set the tone. You establish the world. Everything in drama means something – especially in the opening of your play.”

How do you not waste a single moment?

Here are three techniques that rose to the top for me from our discussion:

  1. Don’t waste the time before: Reading Death of a Salesman, I was struck by all that we see, all that we come to understand before characters even speak. In the play’s opening moments, we watch an exasperated, exhausted, Willy Loman, returning from a journey, entering his house, setting down cases, and heaving a deep sigh. Then, his wife, Linda, hearing him, gets out of bed, puts on a robe, and calls – the stage directions say, “with some trepidation” – “Willy!”  From those fraught, unhurried actions, and that first word, the audience knows something is off. The air is thick with concern.
  2. Illuminate the Larger World: Arcadia also begins with two characters on stage, a tutor and his young student. As he does his clever best to artfully dodge her opening question – “Septimus, what is carnal embrace?” – they discuss six other characters, painting a vivid picture of a wider world entangled in scandal. By the time they are joined, on page four, by the first new character (Jellaby, a servant), we already know about him, and the power he wields. Before we see the ghost of Hamlet’s father, the guards and Horatio are abuzz with wonder and fear over the apparition’s earlier appearances, and what it may portend. Then, just as we think we are going to listen to exposition about the ghost, it appears again.
  3. Beware the Bottom Effect: After reading and discussing some of the greats, we looked at the openings of some of our own new plays in progress – including mine. I shared a new opening to my play about Prudence Crandall – whose efforts to integrate her private girls school in rural Connecticut in the 1830s became cause célèbre of the abolitionist movement. My new opening was based on an encounter from much later in Crandall’s life. When she is in her 80s, living in poverty on a farm in Kansas, she is visited by a journalist on a bicycle odyssey from Connecticut to California and back. I imagined that his fascination with her would draw the audience into her story. When we read it out loud, I was surprised to find all the questions were about him and his journey. My colleagues were surprised to hear that she, not he, was the protagonist, rather than the catalyst for his adventure. I had imagined the scene to be a clever narrative trick – but forgot the “Bottom Effect.” Like Titania in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, bewitched by the spurned Oberon to fall in love with the first creature she sees, audiences are primed to fall for whomever they first encounter after the lights go up – especially if that character, like mine, is already on a journey.

Thanks to Kate Snodgrass for a terrific session.

What are some of your other favorite great openings?

What do you think makes them so great?

A Playwright’s Guide to Audience Feedback

February 4th, 2014 by

Three keys to gracefully getting what you need (without getting depressed)

Whenever I am in the middle of a new project, I can’t help the flights of fancy. I daydream about opening nights, rave reviews, and the answers I’ll give about my inspiration and creative process when I sit for interviews. With that as the typical backdrop, I invariably find a first reading a coming-to-earth experience.  Just hearing a piece out loud is usually enough to break the spell, to show me the finish line is further then I thought, and to remind me how much work, and re-work playwriting is. Then comes the feedback. And though, in my daydream reveries, I imagine the only thing audiences will be able to say is, “Wow!” in fact, they say a lot more.

It can be an ego bruising experience.

So, I am happy to share, what have emerged from my experiences sharing work and getting feedback at Playwrights’ Platform, my three keys to getting what I need without getting depressed:

  1. Ask for the feedback you want: Be specific about the kind of feedback you need (and are ready for). If it’s new and raw and you just want encouragement to keep at it, don’t be bashful about saying so. Ask what they like about it, what they think is working, and what they’d like more of. In my experience, the best moderators always open audience feedback by asking the playwright about their reaction to hearing a piece, and, “What questions do you have? How can we help you?” Even if they don’t, remember this is your time. Frame the conversation in the way that will be most useful to you. Don’t just ever say, “Tell me what you think.” You’ll get that without asking. But you can also steer the conversation where you want, and need it to go.
  2. Stick to the script: Whether they like it or loathe it, whether they are well behaved and restrict their comments to their reactions (or wade into suggestions about how to rewrite your play), in my experience, the best strategy is to avoid getting lured into defending, debating, or discussing your choices (or possible new directions). This is air time for other’s reactions and feedback. It isn’t pretty to argue with others about their experiences and impressions. Nod your head to show you are listening. And stick to this script (disclaimer – acting sometimes required)“Thank you.” “I hear what you are saying.” “I understand your point.”
  3. Take some. Leave the rest: At the end of the day, it is your play, and your call about what feedback to heed and what to ignore. Some will hit home, and you won’t be able to shake it until you deal with it. The rest comes and goes and, in time, it’s like it never happened at all.

We have a Twitter account

January 30th, 2014 by

We already know members can pack a punch in the 10-minute form.
How about 140 characters?
I am pleased to introduce the Platform’s new Twitter profile. For updates about the Platform, member news, and writing opportunities, check it out and follow at: www.twitter.com/PlaywrightsPFM.
We are excited to try this out as a profile raiser and network builder for the Platform and its members. Tweet to @PlaywrightsPFM and let me know you’re a member, and I’ll add you to the member’s list.
Stefan Lanfer (@stefanlanfer)