First Look, 101 and Massive Draft
Aaron Carter is the Literary Manager at Steppenwolf, and the editor of Massive Draft.
Editor’s Note: With First Look 101 coming up, Polly Carl and I started discussing (via email and in person) the intersections between First Look 101 and Massive Draft. In an act of egregious retroactive continuity, I’ve crafted those discussions into a polished question and answer exchange. Join us in pretending this actually happened.
Aaron Carter: Let’s clear up some terminology. We’ve got First Look. We’ve got 101. And we’ve got Massive Draft.
Polly Carl: I’ll take the 101 portion.
AC: Great. I’ll start with First Look. That’s three brand new plays in rotating rep. The idea as I see it is that new play development doesn’t stop because we’ve added set, lights and costumes. In fact adding those elements is part of how the playwright & the creative team deepen their understanding of the play. So First Look is a way to continuing to develop the play through adding production elements –
PC: And adding the audience.
AC: Right, all without claiming a world premiere – the idea is these plays will go on to further productions.
PC: Don’t even get me started with the whole issue our field has with the world premiere fetish.
AC: As tempting as that is, I will instead invite you to explain 101.
PC: OK, A few years back Ed Sobel and others on the Steppenwolf artistic staff had the brilliant idea of formalizing audience engagement with the new play process through First Look 101. By attending rehearsals and tech for First Look, a group of committed Steppenwolf devotees get a look inside how a new play moves from the page into a production. This includes watching the words on the page morph and change, design elements evolve, and characters go from two-dimensional to three. In my two years of experience with First Look 101 I’ve been awed by the incredible commitment of the 101ers who spend free evenings and weekends to live my reality in a dark rehearsal room.
AC: So you’re serious when you talk about adding the audience.
PC: Oh, totally. First Look 101 acknowledges and embraces the truth that our audience is our most important asset. It’s why we make theater. The more I’ve been involved in the 101 conversations, the more I feel the presence of the audience in our work, in our season planning, in our conversations about the plays, and in our sense of what new stories matter and must be told.
AC: And it’s the spirit of 101 that we’re trying to bring to a wider audience with Massive Draft.
PC: Which is this site right here.
AC: You and Joy Meads and Will Bishop and Thomas Weitz and Christopher Shea did a great job getting this thing up and running. It’s been kind of amazing to inherit this project as I joined Steppenwolf.
PC: Yeah – don’t screw it up.
AC: I’ll try not to. So is it fair to say that an audience that is informed about the process has a deeper appreciation of the product?
PC: I hope so, ‘cause that’s the point of 101.
AC: And of Massive Draft.
PC: So that’s everything right? First Look, 101 and Massive Draft?
AC: Think so. Anything new with 101 this season?
PC: Well, we are going to try something new this year. We want to consider ways to bring our audience into the creative process from a slightly different angle. Rather than only peering into the process, we wondered what it might be like to ask 101 participants to emulate a piece of the process. To join us in not only watching the plays develop but to act like their own artistic department—discussing the work and creating a season theme for the three First Look plays.
AC: Like the subscription season theme?
PC: Every year the Steppenwolf artistic staff comes together to not only decide which plays to produce but to also consider how to create a season that advances a conversation for an entire year through a season theme. This theme promotes something more than the individual plays. It builds upon the notion of a community in conversation about the way that the stories on stage matter to our day-to-day lives. This theme influences all of the conversation we have as an artistic organization and at its best gives us a deeper way to get to know our audience. And deciding upon a theme is always incredibly hard collaborative work among a group of creative people.
AC: Sounds fun.
PC: It should be. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking around with what I like to term “the itinerant reviser.” We watch a play, we see it through the lens of our own creative impulses and in the very act of watching and interpreting we create a slightly different version of the story. I’m excited to see what happens when we revise together to agree upon a theme that will tell the story of our First Look season.
AC: And we’ll try and capture as much of it as we can and share it here as well.
PC: It’s a deal.
Polly Carl is director of the American Voices New Play Institute. Aaron Carter is the literary manager at Steppenwolf.Posted by Aaron Carter | 0 responses