Authentic, Accessibility, and Risk


Last week I was invited to talk with the Fordham University 2nd year MFA Playwrights about play development and The Farm Theater’s College Collaboration. I was grateful for the conversation and impressed with the students thoughtfulness and their research on The Farm and the program. Also, in March, I have been invited to join Centre College in  London to talk with the Rose Bruford College about The Farm Theater’s College Collaboration Program.  In the conversation three themes came up during our hour and a half conversation. Obviously, collaboration came up but it was the ideas of Authenticity, Accessibility, and Risk that resonated.

Centre College Dept. Chair Matthew Hallock and Farm’s Artistic Director Padraic Lillis

I was asked what The Farm Theater looks for in a writer for this program. The first word that came to mind is authentic. The writer has to be a skilled playwright, they have to have a good temperament to partner with students as equal collaborators and mentees, they have to have something to say. However, when we were talking about what gets those with those qualities to stand out, it became clear that it was those that are able to put themselves in the room with you through an email or a letter – and when in person, you feel as if you know them because they’ve authentically shared of themselves. The interview process is not about the right or wrong answer. It’s about bringing yourself into the room. This is what resonates in your writing as well.

Playwright Morgan McGuire with cast of In The Cotton

Also, authenticity is vital when talking with students about what the writer wants to explore. If the writer shares of themselves in an honest, vulnerable, and authentic way – the students will feel empowered to share their authentic selves. It is through the honest sharing of our selves throughout the process that allows the work to resonate with everyone that participates in the program; from writer, actor, designer,- to the audience. Each artist wants to bring their authentic selves to each interaction around their art. Let us know you, we’ll share ourselves, and together we’ll have a deeper experience creating and presenting the work.

Accessibility for early career artists to mentors and experienced artists that generously share their knowledge, as well as opportunities to present their work as a way to improve their craft, strengthen their professional network, and showcase their talents is a core value of The Farm Theater. Our vision is to create a world that provides equal opportunity for artists, who don’t necessarily have a pedigree for success, to be able to be recognized for their individual talent and voice; and to be able to step up to the plate and take a swing on any artistic playing field. It is with this focus that The Farm Theater has shaped its programming, selection process of the playwright, and our partner schools.

Talk back after a performance of Never Have I Ever at Birmingham Southern College

The conversation with the writers was a rich back and forth dialogue about a variety of topics. Before we ended I felt compelled to talk about one word: Risk.  Risk is where the discoveries lay, it where growth is, it is where their voice is. Do not be afraid to take a risk at any point of the process. Regarding the College Collaboration Project that is what the program affords the writers. They get to see their plays in multiple productions. Multiple rehearsal processes. I remember a phone conversation with 2016/17 playwright, Micheline Auger, who said she was having a vision of a Chorus in her play. Would that be okay? I didn’t know if it was a singing chorus, a Greek chorus, or what.

l95t10 hoodie chorus centre college
#love95times Centre College Hoodie Chorus

Neither did she. I called Centre College, one of our partner schools, and they said, ‘Sure, bring it on.’ It turned out it was a Greek Chorus in the spirit Hip Hop and the element that elevated the play. It only happened because the writer took the risk. All of these productions are development productions. They are the process. It is the chance to learn about the play and to strengthen your voice. Risk. It is the only way to grow. You have ‘save as’ on your computer. You’ll never lose what you had but you’ll never discover what might be if you don’t take the risk. That is true in every step of the process. Go deeper. Try something.  Risk getting messy. Be open to discovery. We ask the same about all of the collaborators: actors, directors, designers, and audience. Be open to discovery by taking a risk and doing something you’re not sure will work.

I talk about Risk in the process of developing the script. However, the greatest form of Risk and the commitment to process is modeled by the schools who sign on to participate in the program. The play will be slated to be part of their next annual season. A new play. Not only is there no title. Not only has not one word been written. But the playwright hasn’t been selected before the school has signed on to participate in the program. That is a Risk. And one I am always grateful. I am grateful for their willingness to participate in the program, to embrace process, and to trust that the experience will be valuable for their students. If the colleges are willing to take that level of risk – It is an encouragement for the writer to do so. Everybody is invested in the process and making the most of the opportunity: Discovery, Growth, Learning, Sharing, Collaborating, by making the process accessible to as many people as possible and bringing our authentic selves to it.

Talk with you soon.