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May 1999 Regional Conference, Dayton Ohio USA


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What I Learned at the Dayton ICWP Regional Conference
by Jeannene Bybee

It's been strange to see how almost silent those of us who attended the Dayton conference have been on the (ICWP-L) list since then. For me, after spending a little more than 2 complete days talking non-stop about playwriting, theatre, creativity and women's issues, it's taken some time to stop my head from spinning and to gather my thoughts. It's difficult to capture how meaningful and special the gathering was in an email message of reasonable length.
But I do believe it's important to do so, and to try and share some of what we learned with those who couldn't attend and to encourage (implore even) others to find a way to have similar gatherings in their areas. I have never been to a gathering where I felt so welcome, so supported, so encouraged and so accepted! The conference truly inspired me and so did all the remarkable women and playwrights I met.
What follows is my attempt to summarize and record just some of the things I learned (or remembered I knew) as part of this conference. It's the best way I could think of to communicate some of the depth and breadth of the discussions that took place. I've tried to attribute statements where I could, but forgive me if I've overlooked someone. My hope is that others who attended will add to this list their own insights, ideas and inspirations.
What I learned:
Playwrights should be encouraged to move beyond realism; TV and movies do that so well it's tough to compete. Let's find ways to create work that is uniquely theatrical. (Marsha Hanna, Artistic Director of Human Race Theatre)
That there are alternatives to blind submission. Playwrights banding together to produce their work or get it produced may be the best route to getting our work done. (Linda Eisenstein).
That plays should take us on a journey with a person or people, not an issue.
Playwrights need to "toot their own horns" and promote their own work. Women, in particular, are notorious for wanting people to notice, but afraid to make the announcements themselves.
That many, many theatre efforts fail because participants can't sustain their energy and so much rests on those few who do the organizing work. We've got to figure out ways to create theatre companies, projects, and playwright initiatives that don't burn people out and are sustainable over time.
That sometimes you may be blocked, because you aren't ready to write it.
That playwrights aren't always the best people to critique other playwrights' work. Actors and directors with an interest in supporting playwrights and who have experience in bringing new work to life may offer the best comments on plays in progress. (Sandra Perlman)
That playwrights should try to find a home at a theatre company, perhaps even trading services. So many of us do public relations or other work since we're good writers; we need to learn to leverage our skills and get involved as playwrights, not just as volunteers.
That sometimes the best response to the work of another writer is, "Yes, keep going."
That we need to find ways to validate our own work and make it meaningful for us. That we shouldn't wait for that critic, grant, contest, prize money, big theatre production, or whatever to make us happy about our writing. We need to control our own success, rather than waiting for the approval of others.
That maybe we shouldn't send SASE's with our scripts; perhaps this is too big a temptation and encourages its return. Instead Sandra Perlman recommended sending a note saying "Don't send this back, please pass it on to someone you think may enjoy it."
To say, I do _____________ to make a living. I write plays to make a life. (Sandra Perlman)
That we should all carry around business cards with our email address that announce us as playwrights! And maybe even a script or two we've self-published. We never know who we're going to meet where.
That we should ask for the kind of feedback we need, rather than take what we get. For instance say, "I don't want to discuss the structure right now, but did you think the language of the different characters was distinct enough?" or whatever. It's your work, you should control the input you receive.
That very often it's a director, rather than a theatre company, who will champion your work. We need to find creative ways to network and make connections with directors. Theatres don't produce plays, people do. (Linda Eisenstein)
To remember that critics are just people with an opinion and that opinions can really vary. What one person hates, another will love.
To remember that some of the best conversations can take place when you're out of your usual time and place, such as hotel rooms in Dayton OH at 1:30 a.m.
That we must continue to take risks in our writing and keep the stakes high.
That the male climax model is not the only acceptable structure for writing a play, no matter what most of the books say. Women have multiple climaxes; there are multiple ways to structure a play.
To learn from those who have traveled a similar path. It's invaluable to talk to someone who knows the language you speak and can identify with where you're at.
That if you talk about your writing ideas too much, you may spoil the idea and lose your enthusiasm to do the work of writing it down. (Linda Eisenstein)
Take some time to imagine yourself sitting in an audience and see the lights go up on the stage. Watch carefully as a great and moving piece of theatre unfolds before you, one that makes you say "I wish I wrote that." Then write the play. (Sandra Perlman)

That I can tell really silly stories about my past after too much wine and a group of women playwrights will understand and say, "When are you turning that into a monologue?"

That ICWP is an invaluable resource for providing support and camaraderie among those truly wonderful, and slightly crazy, women who chose to make a life by creating plays for the stage.
Jeannene Bybee

Playwright and Performer

Parker, Colorado, USA
[Jeannene Bybee is a member writer of Denver's Chameleon Stage. Her play The Hundred Steps is a finalist in the 1999 Actors Theatre of Louisville 10-Minute Play Contest.]

More Afterthoughts

from Sandra Perlman

Ditto Jeannene -- she said it so well there is little more for me to say except:

1. Several people did small jobs and no one felt overwhelmed or underappreciated. We all saw the success of each other's labors.

2. The presenters often spoke in specifics -- what they wanted to see in their theatre -- why certain plays succeeded on Broadway -- what judges were looking for in the Jane Chambers. The specifics gave us a point of departure to discuss.

3. We all knew one another quickly because of the small numbers of people and could conference and eat as one unit without breaking down into sub-groups.

4. Our expectations were for a small conference and the success and pleasures of new found friends and ideas seemed greater in proportion.

5. The readings -- which often seem lost at larger conferences -- were intimate, entertaining and non-threatening. We all particularly delighted in Hilda's new play which was lovingly translated into "Americana" by Carole Clement from Flemish. We called Hilda the Neil Simon of Belgium with the best definitions of that genre. I think her face showed her pleasure at seeing how well her words played in English.

Later at a rest stop while driving home I saw Hilda and Carole having a quiet lunch and watching birds -- I ran up to Hilda begging for her autograph as the great Belgian playwright (hopefully without scaring her into thinking she was being attacked by a crazed American drama terrorist). The serendipity of us both stopping at the same moment seemed a perfect metaphor for Dayton. For a few days -- a few dozen hours -- we all stopped and listened and watched and drank and ate and laughed and delighted in the work we do -- consoling and cheering one another to continue because it is still the best work we can have.


Sandra Perlman, Kent, OH

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