Righting the Play

A series of workshops at the Playwrights' Center strips the dramatic process down to author, script, actor, and audience

A longtime member of the Playwrights' Center and a prolific writer, Corbett is looking forward to his first Hothouse and the prospect of working again with Stangl. Yet, like many established playwrights, he has some reservations about the enduring benefit of staged readings. For playwrights desperate to get their work produced, he explains, readings often take on the aura of an audition, and the barrage of advice from well-meaning dramaturgs and actors can muddle the writers' vision. "At a certain level in your career," he says, "all you can get are staged readings. There's a point when a writer becomes a dope about his own play. Then you need to put it in a drawer for three months and come back to it."

According to Corbett, discussions with an audience can also be less than helpful. With the playwright opening himself up for criticism, many people are eager to indulge their affinity for public speaking and make comments that have little or nothing to do with the play. "You can always count on a couple of comments about dirty language," laughs Corbett dryly. "I remember one reading in Arizona where this big old cowboy got all bent out of shape about the word fuck. I was like, 'You must have heard that before.' Compared to that, the little old Lutheran ladies here can take a lot more than you'd think."

Like many local dramatists, both Zark and Corbett were drawn to Minneapolis partially because of the Playwrights' Center (Zark from New York and Corbett from Yale's graduate drama program). Not surprisingly the Center's frequent workshops, periodic readings, and excess of $100,000 in annually distributed grant money have turned the Twin Cities into a mecca for writers. Though the center draws an extraordinary pool of transplanted talent to the local theater scene, it has in recent years been a somewhat insular institution.

Following their own script: Hothouse Festival playwrights Todd Irvine, Waring Jones, Rosanna Staffa, Bill Corbett, and Jenna Zark
Following their own script: Hothouse Festival playwrights Todd Irvine, Waring Jones, Rosanna Staffa, Bill Corbett, and Jenna Zark

According to director of playwright services Megan Monaghan, however, this year's Hothouse will cater more specifically to casual theatergoers. "They have TV specials about the making of Titanic, right? We want people to see these plays so they can see how all this magic is created. When they see it in an actual theater, they can see how far it's come." Whether Titanic would seem quite as magical with Leonardo DiCaprio proclaiming himself king of a bare stage remains a potential point of debate.

For the Hothouse playwrights, the danger of sinking is part of the thrill. "It's still mysterious," says Staffa. "I love the questions when they're hot and scary. When the work is safe, it's no fun."


The Hothouse Festival runs April 12 through April 17 at the Playwrights' Center; (612) 332-7481.

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