All Photos Courtest Vincent Culotta
Generous Company runs WordBRIDGE. WordBRIDGE is, at once, local, international, and universal because it’s a playwright development program, rather than a script development program. In the former a person is honored for creating art and in the latter a property is built for commerce. Developing people and harnessing belief power are what theater and great leaders do. WordBRIDGE does it as well or better than any other entity with a similar mission in the public or private sector.
In Hollywood the writer is mostly irrelevant. In television, writers work mostly in teams. In theater the story belongs to the playwright.
WordBRIDGE is about the playwright not the producing entity. What follows are short conversations with a handful of the 60+ folks involved in WordBRIDGE 2012. For 2 weeks WordBRIDGE took up residence at Center Stage. This is a great partnership. Baltimore has much to contribute to the American Theater conversation.
Dipika Guha—Playwright — Herculine & Lola
Peter: How do you explain WordBRIDGE to people?
Dipika: They create theater by introducing a lot of different people into the mix…in the hope that collaborations and conversations will begin organically. You may find collaborators in unexpected places. WordBRIDGE really encourages the indirect approach…including people from other disciplines and perspectives.
Peter: What was your expectation for your play when you arrived?
Dipika: I was hoping to leave with a draft. Finish the third act. I had no idea how that was going to happen.
Peter: How did it happen?
Dipika: It was a conversation. The director (Dave White) was continually reflecting back, putting the ball in my court, asking “what do you need now, in this moment?” It was wonderful, there was no need to have to plan 3 days in advance.
I was even able to cancel a rehearsal to write. There was that flexibility which I really appreciated, and it helps you reconnect to what you really need.
Peter: What would you advise next year’s playwrights?
Dipika: Be really open about the “how” you think.
You can be as specific about your goals as you want when you come here, but, keep a really open mind and open heart about how that’s going to happen. You just don’t know. The more open you are, the more surprising and enriching this experience will be. Someone will come along and offer you a gift. You might not see if you were set on a process you’d concocted yourself.
Peter: Any surprises?
Dipika: The work I did with Suzanne Coley (Resource Artist—Visiting visual artist, poet, and bookmaker). I spent the first week painting. I didn’t do any writing at all. I’m not a painter.
She’s a loving person. She was extremely strict with me when I started painting and there was something about that that I knew, immediately, that she was my teacher. Because anybody else, I’m going to slack off.
I spent the whole first week painting for several hours a day–literally–after never having painted before!
Then she told me I was almost ready to write. And so I finished my final painting and she said, “Yeah, I think you’re ready.” I painted the final act of the play before I’d written it. That gave me a lot of confidence, that I had created a visual…that it existed visually so therefore it must exist somewhere in the plane. That was tremendously encouraging because I did not know how I was going to get into the last part of this play. That was completely mind blowing for me.
Peter: What’s the director’s job?
Dipika: It’s very playwright focused. The conversation is led back to you and where you are and what you need in that moment. Each play is different and some are further along than others, so, I think helping you to articulate what your goals might be while you’re here. People are kind to you.
Michele Vazquez—Professional Actor, Director, Generous Company Member
Peter: What does WordBRIDGE do?
Michelle: It has a distinct focus on the playwright. A lot of labs began that way, and have since moved to an eye on production. We’re still very process-oriented. Not just about the play but about the playwright. Not just the next great American play but the next great American playwright. We support that creative process.
Peter: How does being an actor make you an interesting director for this process?
Michelle: Knowing how actors receive information, how they look at a script. Their first experience is with what’s on the page, that’s all they have to go on. An actor’s job is to discover their character and to be useful through their character telling the story. An actor’s focus is narrower than a director’s (or a playwright’s) focus. An actor is trying to connect the dots for one particular psychology and how it interacts with the others. That is incredibly valuable….being able to track emotional development. No one is better than an actor to tell you whether a moment is bullshit.
Peter: In this process what’s the difference between the actor’s job and the director’s job?
Michelle: An actor’s job is to be available and flexible, and trying whatever gets thrown at you, because things are changing constantly. Characters get written out, emotional journeys are shifting, and tensions are being tweaked and twisted. You have to be able to let go of the thing that happened or the choice that was made before. The job is to find those moments of clarity (or not) and to communicate that back to the writer.
My job as a director is to facilitate that journey for the actor. Ask the big questions, offer assignments or experiments to find what’s working, to pull thematic strings here and there. And to ask playwrights questions about their script.
The nature of this company is different. We are a group of people from all over the country, and we’re not just actors, playwrights and directors. We’re not insular. We are mathematicians, psychologists, visual artists, we come from all disciplines. We bring all these different entities together—create a collision between them, and see what happens. What new dots connect? Creativity happens when you bring all these people together.
Because of that, WordBRIDGE is the place where I get the best exercise as an actor or director.
James Knight—Actor and Generous Company Member
Peter: What does WordBRIDGE want?
James: WordBRIDGE wants to discover the next great American playwright. We do that by focusing on pre-professional playwrights.
Peter: What makes WordBRIDGE unique?
James: The varied resources that we bring to the process…each one is geared specifically towards the play that we’re working on. It could call for psychologists, visual artists, clowns, whatever the playwright needs in order to gain insight and find new connections within their own play. We help them to write the play they want to write.
Peter: What’s the actor’s job in this non-production-driven process?
James: You have to be open and willing to communicate a pure actor’s perspective to the playwright. Sometimes in new play development (for production) situations there’s a tendency for actors to give their input in more directorial terms…from the viewpoint of production problems. We only focus on things about the character that shape the work.
Peter: What does an actor need from a director in this process?
James: Because we focus on the playwright the actor needs the director as a communication bridge. Actors discuss things with the director out of respect for the playwright’s need and sensitivities. Playwrights don’t usually get the lens focused so tightly on them. Two weeks here can be a little intense. The director is a great buffer for the actors.
Peter: What does a polished professional actor (who doesn’t even get a public performance) get out of this?
James: Art is about creation! To be on the ground floor of these plays as they are being created. With out the production pressure, actors have the freedom to make big choices without worry. I find participating in the moment of creation tremendously satisfying as an actor and as an artist.
J Ranelli—Theater industry professional and WordBRIDGE Resource Artist
Peter: What is WordBRIDGE doing?
J: Serving the American Theater…American dramatic writing. And each year a group of playwrights, who are at the early stages of their careers. I don’t know of any other project that’s doing it.
Peter: What makes Generous Company the right people to run WordBRIDGE?
J: It’s their generosity and their skills…and this persistent devotion to the people who they are responsible for. They have stayed faithful to that. Every other workshop has given over to the “show shop” mentality.
Peter: What makes WordBRIDGE’s approach unique?
J: They have is a concern for the people who work on the project. The way people are treated is the key to maintaining a certain level of commitment. Their way of receiving the effort, the gift of the talents of everybody who contributes is respected and appreciated…and it’s clear.
Peter: Why does the WordBRIDGE vision and culture matter?
J: Theater is not a welcoming profession, and yet it is a demanding one. It requires playwrights and treasures them, so it’s hard to believe that the industry is so indifferent to the playwright’s development. It is not-for-profit theaters taking the lead.
Peter: You’re a mentor not a playwright, director or acting in any of these. What’s in it for you?
J: Any new playwright is a cause for celebration, because it’s a new voice offering potential for insight into the exploration of the human condition. We understand what we got fromSophocles,TennesseeWilliams, Eugene O’Neill. Some of these plays are going to do that.
There are a couple of these kids well on their way to having that knack, that was only a glimmer when the American Theater, when O’Neill started writing. And he made it okay to delve into character without serious plot. They’re heirs to that.
Adam Pasen—Playwright — Badfic Love
Peter: How’s your experience so far?
Adam: What makes it great for me is the elimination of risks, such as performance. It’s an insularity that serves my process in making the play better. Most conferences of this type
there’s an award involved, or it’s “who’s coming to see it?” or it’s the audition for a production. To have a process without the competitive piece has served my play in ways I didn’t think were possible.
Peter: How’s has your play changed?
Adam: What was just a comedy now has emotional depth. The good thing about the process is you can pick and choose between what the actors or the directors give you as to what your play needs.
Peter: What makes the WordBRIDGE process unique?
Dave: It’s elastic. It’s purely for the growth of the writer. It’s not about product, having something done a certain date. Whatever they need to do to master their process, they can do.
Peter: What’s the dramaturg’s job in this process?
Dave: As a second set of eyes….someone who’s not responsible for physical staging. Whose duty it is to say, “This is what one has the potential to see.” And when necessary to maybe make options how to deal with what’s there, if that’s a problem. There may be a research component.
Peter: What’s the writer’s job?
Dave: In my opinion, their job is to do what the play demands. The play will tell you what it demands, and their job is to follow that.
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At its core WordBRIDGE is about people. It’s a unique culture where they live together 24/7 for 2 weeks. They work with the playwrights all day and into the evening. They eat 3 meals a day together and then sit on the patio and amuse each other until the wee hours.
WordBRIDGE serves the playwright, as artist, in the midst of creating important new work. It happens in a laboratory. Behind closed doors. It’s not open to the public. It’s all research and development, there’s no product to deliver. The marketplace doesn’t get to decide, yet, the play’s worth. In a laboratory you are free to create sparks and see what happens. It’s a safe environment for taking risks. That’s where art happens. Like procreation, creating art is a human prime-directive. Sharing stories is universal. Think of playwrights as society’s Shamans, guiding the rest of us through the experience of being human, and helping us to form the meaning of it.
As a salon WordBRIDGE offers playwrights conversations with diverse artists from all disciplines. These mentors pose big questions. Create new and exciting frames leading to fresh insights for the playwrights.
Generous Company has the insight, skills and experience to identify and support the next great American playwright. WordBRIDGE offersBaltimoreexceptional artistic and cultural advantages over other East Coast cities. Emerging playwrights are the well—the eternal spring—from which all theaters draw sustenance.
WordBRIDGE has earned our gratitude and support. Share this article with all of your friends and colleagues who believe in Art and art creation as a driver forBaltimore’s renaissance. It will energize you, and you will want to support them.