Boston Public Works is rooted in the observation that, if you are a playwright in Boston, you are swimming in a very small pond with a lot of fish. It’s extremely difficult to get a new work produced in this city simply because there are too few slots. The obvious solution, then, is for playwrights to make more slots. Bypass the traditional theater model and self-produce her or his own play. After all, it is a DIY world. Every conversation surrounding the skill set of the 21st century includes entrepreneurship and making your own opportunities. So, put the power of the production into the hands of the playwright. This solution is easy to reach, but once you’re at this point, something interesting happens.
There was this ah-ha! moment that occurred when we realized this is bigger than just producing our own plays. We realized that simply producing our own plays would not only be self-serving, but it also wouldn’t serve the greater community and solve the problem of too few slots. You have to make the larger number of slots permanent. This ah-ha! moment happened to 13P, who devised the model on which Boston Public Works is based. It also happened to The Welders, another group in Washington, D.C. who are also following 13P’s model. What needs to happen in Boston is the power of production needs to be permanently placed in the hands of all playwrights, radically changing the way plays are developed and produced, and when that happens a host of other changes will fall out for all theater artists in Boston.
Playwrights write because they have a burning desire to say something and want it to be heard. The motivation is present to self-produce, but for many reasons playwrights haven’t taken the step. Some are mired in the traditional model: Write a play, send it to as many theaters as they can, and wait to see if anyone “accepts” their play. They don’t know any other way. Many playwrights simply aren’t wired to understand or have the experience to know the business and organizational requirements of self-production. A roadmap needs to be charted—ground needs to be broken—for others to follow. All it takes is for one group to show the way, to show what’s possible. One consistent observation by the playwrights in Boston Public Works is how empowered they feel, and how they no longer feel helpless when it comes to their art. The reason why they write in the first place—for their voice to be heard—is suddenly realized. They didn’t know the possibility was so close.
Boston Public Works goes beyond playwriting to encompass all Boston-based theater artists in the spirit of collaboration. We embrace actors, directors, designers, dramaturges, and technicians. New work excites theater artists. With new play development, they use their skills and talents to break new ground, too, and make their mark on the piece. The result is new work that bears the mark of the entire Boston-based theater community.
New play development at traditional theaters does exist in Boston, but with the number of playwrights in this city, there should be so much more. The Washington, D.C. theater community just announced that 44 new plays by women will be produced in 2015. In Boston, a quarter of that number--10--by either gender would be news. New play development needs to happen in Boston because new plays are a neglected part of our city’s culture. It would be the same as if we let the buildings on Boylston Street decline, or the trees in the Public Gardens die. For the same reason we take pride in our city—and each one of us has a list of why we love our city and what we proudly show visitors, from the sports teams to the restaurants, Cambridge, the universities—you get the idea, Boston should come to mind in the national consciousness when it comes to new plays, very much in the same way that New York comes to mind when you think of established theater.
Moving forward, we hope everyone has an ah-ha! moment, and that collectively we can build a vibrant new play tradition in Boston. Our hope is that more groups like Boston Public Works are established in Boston.