Writing history, with space and time

As we welcome a second group of playwrights in residence as part of TimeLine’s Playwrights Collective, the company’s new-play incubator, we wanted to reflect on all the incredible work that has happened since the program was first launched in 2013.

Over the past three years, I’ve worked closely with the emerging and established playwrights who were part of the inaugural Playwrights Collective, including Alice Austin, John Conroy, Emily Dendinger, Frances Limoncelli, Susan McLaughlin Karp, and Brett Neveu. In a series of meetings, workshops, and readings, they each worked to develop a brand-new play that fit with TimeLine’s mission of using history to explore today’s social and political issues. Over the next few days, we’ll feature a blog post from each of the 2013-2016 Playwrights Collective playwrights, giving you insight into their plays, their process, and what drew them to TimeLine.

But first, what IS the Playwrights Collective? A brief overview of this amazing new program:

How do you write history? This is the question TimeLine’s Company Members asked more than three years ago when we first discussed the idea of forming a Playwrights Collective. Over the course of our now 20 years as a theatre company, we’ve produced a wide range of well-known classics, unknown gems, Chicago premieres and nine world-premiere plays. Every season is its own mix of new and established voices, asking us important questions about people and places in history and what those moments mean for us today. But what makes a history play a TimeLine play, and how could we create a home for writers?

Playwrights wanted a home base with artistic facilitators and playwright collaborators, and they needed time to research, rewrite, question, and develop new work without the stress of production deadlines.

Space and time. We’ve never been a company that rushes into anything. Strategic planning is a part of TimeLine’s DNA, and we are thoughtful and deliberate about our artistic and business decisions. So, true to form, we spent some time talking with playwrights to better understand their needs, and learned from other theatre companies that have led writers groups. We asked playwrights what they needed, and how we could best be a place for new work to develop. What we heard over and over was the importance of space and time. Playwrights wanted a home base with artistic facilitators and playwright collaborators, and they needed time to research, rewrite, question, and develop new work without the stress of production deadlines.

For the inaugural group of playwrights, we approached a small legion of local writers who were familiar with our work and shared a strong connection with our mission. Some we’d even worked with previously. All had very different writing styles and interests. The playwrights were asked to become a part of our collective and to work on a new play or adaptation that fit our mission, culminating in a table reading of their work. The plays they proposed were surprising, exciting and unique –covering history from turn of the century New York to more recent events in Russia, and exploring subjects that were brave, ground-breaking, and personal.

Between early 2013 and December 2016, we met monthly to share research, interview guests, read scenes, ask questions, offer feedback, and eventually hear a first draft of everyone’s plays. The work we did together was incredibly exciting and rewarding, and their individual insights were invaluable for each other and for me.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading more about their experiences in this blog series over the next few weeks, as each playwright shares a bit about their project and process. And I’m looking forward to exploring the many new ideas and insights that are already percolating as the new 2017-18 Playwrights Collective begins their work together!

Read the other posts in the series:

  • Playwright John Conroy on making sense of a very personal experience with crime
  • Playwright Susan McLaughlin Karp on the 1930s-era Kennedy/Kardashian-like Mitfords
  • Playwright Brett Neveu on the development of his play To Catch a Fish, slated to premiere in our 2017-18 season
  • Playwright Alice Austen on seeking further understanding Russia and the Russian mentality
  • Playwright Frances Limoncelli on a story that encourages us to see the racism within us, not just outside of us
  • Playwright Emily Dendinger on a magical woman who went after what she wanted, despite obstacles

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