Read the story of how Seattle Playwrights Salon came to be in Seattle by Duane Kelly, published in the January/ February 2017 edition of The Dramatist:
By Duane Kelly
If the recent launch of three new theatre companies by Dramatists Guild members does not represent a trend, it is at least a confluence deserving attention.
Last year I reported on The Grief Dialogues (www.griefdialoguies.com), a non-profit organization started by DG member Elizabeth Coplan. Its mission is to produce plays and related events based around the theme of grief for the death of loved ones.
Last fall two other enterprises took root in Seattle. Guild members Margaret O’Donnell and Kate Danley launched Seattle Playwrights Salon (www.seattleplaywrightssalon.com), secured an ongoing venue, and mounted two plays – Undocumented, written by O’Donnell, and Building Madness by Danley.
As to the impetus behind Seattle Playwrights Salon, the two founders were finding Seattle’s theatre scene to be insular, with most of the reading and the rare production opportunities going to young people or already famous playwrights. Readings could be expensive (classes with one reading at the end costing as much as $1200), or exclusive, as in restricted to a few anointed playwrights. Danley and O’Donnell, armed with a bootstrap mentality, decided to take matters into their own hands and become their own champions. Danley went off to study at the Commercial Theater Institute in New York to learn the ins and outs of producing while O’Donnell began networking with other area playwrights to learn what needs were not being met. On a serendipitous day in September they connected with the owners of The Conservatory Seattle, a coffee shop art house in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood. The owners had a dream of their café being a creative home to artists of the spoken word. Thus began The Seattle Playwrights Salon, featuring a monthly play reading series and the occasional full production, with a mission to feature the deserving work of unheralded local playwrights. Their next two productions, f plays by other writers, are scheduled for early 2017.
Concurrent with O’Donnell and Danley’s venture, Guild member John C. Davenport was joining forces with another Seattle playwright to launch Red Rover Theatre Company. In October, they mounted their first full production, Davenport’s play Red Rover (which also gave the nascent company its name). They presented six performances over a two-week period and were delighted when their last performance sold out. Davenport and his partner were enthused about their inaugural production and immediately began laying plans for their next full production in the spring of this year. Davenport says that what motivated him to start this company was “the endless frustration of sending out plays and getting rejected or never hearing any response at all.”
It just so happened that the fall meeting for Dramatists Guild members in the Seattle area featured a panel discussion with the managers of four small stage venues that are suitable for playwrights interested in self-producing. The panelists were Caitlin McCown of West of Lenin Theater, Greg Carter of 12th Avenue Arts, Doug Staley of theater Schmeater, and David Gassner of 18th and Union Arts Space. While all four managers are receptive to self-producing writers, they also cautioned that producing is a complicated skill set distinct from script-writing. As one panelist put it, “The positive energy of creative art doesn’t automatically translate into good organizational process. Artists need to respect the need for focused administrators.” Panelist Greg Carter added that a successful production must start with a strong script: “What successful plays have in common is brilliant, challenging writing about the meaning of life on earth. Any play that can ask those questions will work anywhere. Always has, always will.”