Milwaukee Chamber Theatre

MCT's Commitment to New Works

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Playwright Gwendolyn Rice recently interviewed MCT staff members C. Michael Wright (Producing Artistic Director) and Jacque Troy (Education Director/Literary Manager) for an upcoming story about A THOUSAND WORDS. We thought our readers would enjoy what Michael & Jacque shared…

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre has nurtured new works through world premieres and staged readings in the past. Why do you think that's an important part of your programming?

C. Michael Wright (CMW): Since its inception 37 years ago, MCT has been committed to producing great literature on the stage and a key element of our current mission is nurturing local theatre artists. So it seems only fitting that we should be supporting the development of playwrights and their work. When one of our co-founders, Monty Davis, passed away, we decided to honor him by naming our new works program after him and solidifying our commitment to Wisconsin writers. Each season, as part of our Montgomery Davis Play Development Series (MDPDS), MCT features free staged readings of two new scripts written by playwrights with ties to Wisconsin, offering them the chance to develop and revise their work for possible production and giving our audience an inside look at the intricate process of play development.

Jacque Troy (JT): One of the things that really intrigued me about this position when I took it six years ago was Michael's commitment to discovering what's new and exciting in the world of theatre. He's always been dedicated to nurturing new plays, emerging theatre artists and younger audiences. With new plays, initially presented through either our MDPDS as staged readings or in our Young Playwrights Festival (YPF) for high-school writers, there are fantastic opportunities to provide real exposure and experience for all these emerging talents both on and off the stage.

Describe the challenges of taking a new play from reading to production.

CMW: Theatre is by nature a collaborative art. The act of bringing together a number of strong, creative voices for each project can be its greatest asset, as well as its greatest challenge. I suppose the trickiest issue, when working on an original script, is the addition of not only one more collaborator to the process, but the originator of the work. A certain degree of sensitivity, understanding and diplomacy is necessary.

JT: From my perspective as literary manager, I love the creative give and take that can happen with a playwright when developing their work. The only challenge comes when I encounter playwrights who are less interested in collaborating than we'd like. Fortunately, I've never had that problem with an adult playwright. But sometimes the student writers involved in the YPF are so busy with other adolescent responsibilities that it's hard to get them to commit to working on their piece once it's past the "due date."

What struck you about A THOUSAND WORDS when you were first considering doing it as a reading?

CMW: What intrigued me most about this script was its exploration of art and artists from different perspectives and dramatically different times. As the artistic director of a non-profit theatre company, I immediately identified with the inherent struggle to get the public to respect art in its purest form and not as a mere commodity. I also found the characters, situations and dialogue true and thoroughly engaging.

JT: I first encountered A THOUSAND WORDS as a member of the final reading panel for Wisconsin Wrights. Nothing is revealed about the playwright until after the finalists' work has been read and we meet in Madison to discuss our responses. A THOUSAND WORDS immediately grabbed me. The story possessed all the elements that usually captivate me in the theatre: it was firmly grounded in events from the real world and had obviously been carefully researched, it possessed a social conscious, and unmistakable heart. I cared about all of the characters and what would happen to them. I thought the mixing of the past and the present created fascinating tension and resonance. I also admired the tight but evocative dialogue.

How do MCT audiences typically react to new work?

CMW: I think it's worth noting that two of our most popular shows in recent years were new works, DICKENS IN AMERICA by James DeVita and THE DALY NEWS by Jonathan Gillard Daly. A large portion of our audience is already incredibly open to and curious about original works. Others are starting to follow suit. One of our goals has been to enlighten our patrons by including them more and more in the creative process, so we've been offering a number of programs to encourage this. Over the past few years, the majority of our audience has begun to genuinely appreciate learning about play development, understanding the workshop process and watching a new work come to life.

JT: I've had a front row seat to audience response when it comes to our MDPDS and our YPF showcase, as I serve as principal facilitator for both. It's been amazing to see how devoted our audiences are to not only attending but responding to these new work venues. Attendance at our MDPDS readings has been consistently impressive and nearly every person who watches the reading wants to stay after and discuss the experience. They often provide some wonderful insights that influence future drafts of the work. After the first year of presenting YPF, it became clear that the audience was eager to talk to the young playwrights responsible for our three winning one-acts. Wanting to encourage this interest in new work, we decided it was important to provide a talkback after every performance so the audience could share their excitement and questions with the playwrights.

How does A THOUSAND WORDS fit into MCT's season?

CMW: When choosing a season, I try to find a nice balance of contemporary classics from the past 75 years, literary adaptations and newer works. I also enjoy embracing an overarching theme for each season. This year our theme is "Heroes, survivors…and people like us." With its depiction of the indomitable people of the Great Depression and its study of the survival of art, A THOUSAND WORDS fits in quite perfectly.

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