In this third of a three-part interview, Paul Meshejian reveals the secrets of how a play might get accepted by PlayPenn, the annual play development conference.
It’s not about not offending anyone. It’s about the widest range of views that will guide us toward looking carefully at work that may only recommend itself to one out of the three people who have evaluated a particular play. PlayPenn’s record, in that regard, speaks for itself.
PlayPenn readers read for us out of a sense of community pride and responsibility that Philadelphia has an organization committed to this kind of substantive work, and that its results are observable. They participate with a curiosity for what’s being written and how it’s being written. The readers participate with a sense of their individual and community responsibility to the profession and a pride in the results.
Eger: Todd Ristau* once asked you, “What are you looking for in the first ten pages?”
Meshejian: “I’m interested in having my attention grabbed. All I want is to want to know more. I want to be intrigued. I want to know more about the people. I want to know more about the story. I want to know more about the language. I mean, all you have to do is hold me for ten pages. [. . .] If you can’t keep [the audience] for ten minutes, you’re not going to keep them for two hours.”
Meshejian: To date, all evaluations have remained blind until we get down to thirty semi-finalists. At that point in the process, we are employing theatre professionals from across the country, many of whom read enough to be able to recognize either the play they’re reading or the voice of the writer. The professionalism of our finalist panelists is beyond question, making the knowledge of play or writer just another element in the process of evaluations—sometimes working for and sometimes against a given play’s advancement to the finalist list.
Meshejian: We begin the Conference with a three day roundtable that allows playwrights, directors, dramaturgs, designers, and interns to get to know each other in a relaxed environment. During those three days, each of the six Conference plays is read by the artists in the room, which does not include actors. The purpose is for all of the principal Conference artists to begin to become familiar with all the Conference plays, as well as one another.
Last year, we added a second public reading of each play—midway through the process—to give the playwright the opportunity to learn from an audience about the work as it had progressed to that point. Then it’s back into the room for more rehearsal and revision, leading up to the final public reading where writers can begin to evaluate the efficacy of the work they’ve done over the three week period.
Left: Jasmine St. Clair and James Ijames rehearsing SlipShot by Jackie Goldfinger, 2011
Meshejian: They are all driven to learn from what they write, all driven to have their stories told, and all courageous when it comes to their willingness to fall down publicly, get back up, and fall down again.
Eger: What advice do you have for young playwrights who want to make major breakthroughs?
Meshejian: Keep reading, keep writing, and go to the theater.
Read the first part of this three-part interview.
Read the second part of this three-part interview.
Find more information on PlayPenn.
Watch a short video bio with Paul Meshejian (2009).
For Part 1 of this interview, “A comfortable place for misfits”: Interview with PlayPenn founder Paul Meshejian, click this link.
For Part 2 of this interview, Everything you always wanted to know about PlayPenn, but were afraid to ask: Paul Meshejian interview, click this link.
For Part 3, first published on Phindie, click here.