Welcome back, Mighty Toy Cannon.

One thing I neglected to mention it my coverage of the Drammy Awards was Marc Acito's comment toward the end of the evening. He, being invited to present some awards from the podium, remarked how disappointed he was that the Committee wasn't recognizing any playwrights this year for original script, and I knew this irritant was festering somewhere under his skin because he also noted cattily that the award-announcing slides all misspelled the word "achievement," implying that a lack of literary knowledge was evident throughout the entire affair. Might this also explain how two musicals won for best production of the entire year?

Anyway, today we find that Acito and 30 other playwrights have sent an open letter to the Drammy Award committee protesting the committee’s decision not to bestow a playwright's award for the second year in a row and the fourth time in eight seasons. Without further ado, here is their complaint:

On Monday, June 8th, the Portland Drammy Awards once again celebrated every aspect of theatre from actors and directors, to sets, costumes, sound, music, even going so far as to acknowledge the ushers and folks who work in the box office. One category, however was noticeably absent: the very people who create theatre from literally nothing and without whom there would be no theatre, save a few stray mimes and improv events. That’s right, the playwrights.

Portland had many productions this year that were either world premieres or written by local playwrights or both, including Apollo, Cooler, Holidazed, Crazy Enough, Live Nude Fear, New Believers, and Pylon. To snub this group is not only baffling, it’s an insult in the extreme.

Other cities, many less literate and writer-friendly than Portland, honor writers in their regional theatre award ceremonies: notably the Tony Awards in New York City, (awards for playwrights, as well as writers of the books for musicals); the Jeffs in Chicago (two writing awards for original plays and adaptations); the Barrymore Award in Philadelphia for a world premiere play; and three writing prizes from the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics for new plays.

Portland has the biggest and best bookstore in the country. We have one of the largest writing organizations in the country, Willamette Writers, with 1,600 members. We have more best-selling authors than demographics would dictate (Jean Auel, Chuck Palahniuk, Chelsea Cain, Philip Margolin, to name a few). We have the Wordstock literary festival. And two new play festivals, Fertile Ground and JAW.

So why is it that one of the most literate cities in America, with one of the healthiest theatre communities, chooses to overlook playwrights for the second year in a row and the fourth time in the past eight seasons, ignoring such critically acclaimed world premieres as Celebrity Row and Another Fine Mess, the latter of which went on to become a nominee for the Pulitzer Prize? We the undersigned writers urge the Portland Drammy committee to wake up and acknowledge the source of great theatre.

Because the pen is mightier than the plastic stage sword.

It is signed,

Marc Acito
Adam Bock
Michael Thomas Cooper
Sandra de Helen
A.J. Doherty
Steven Drukman
Andrew Golla
Ciji Guerin
Wayne Harrel
Jordan Harrison
Michael Allen Harrison
Theresa Hernandez
Rolin Jones
Bill Johnson
Nancy Keystone
Sherry Lamoreaux
Storm Large
Susan Mach
Ellen Margolis
Christine McKinley
James Moore
Itamar Moses
Steve Patterson
Ebbe Roe Smith
Andrea Stolowitz
George Taylor
Molly Best Tinsly
Dan Trujillo
Cynthia Whitcomb
Eugenia Woods
Matt Zrebski

I think that's pretty well said. Any theories on why the Drammy Committee has ignored this essential ingredient of theatermaking?


Mead said...

Yes, I have my theories about what happened. But Christ Almighty. To ask why the Drammys "ignored" and "snubbed" playwriting is a little like the lawyer asking the defendant when he stopped beating his wife.

culturejock said...

It has been pointed out to me by more than one person that I didn't exhibit very good investigative journalism in this post by presenting only the playwrights' side of the story. Do forgive me, and while you're at it please enlighten me, because I honestly don't know how the Drammy Committee makes these decisions.

And yet, then again, I will confess. Part of me doesn't care. Not deeply anyway. Despite the fact that some really talented people and committed theater advocates have served on the Drammy Committee over the years, for the 20 years that I have been in observation I have seen this group be driven, to varying degrees, by people with their own axe to grind (PCS sucks!) or personal agendas (go musicals!) which is why most of us who love theater take these awards with a grain of salt. What I appreciated most about the Drammy party this year was the collegiality and festive nature of the whole affair, and the spirit of wide recognition, but the awards themselves? I could take them or leave them. The Drammy Awards, like the Tony Awards, involve a strange game of playing favorites with our peers, but I think we all know excellence when we see it no matter who wins the prize.

MightyToyCannon said...

I felt a range of reactions to the letter, and heard a variety of responses from other people, including the provocative, “Cry me a frickin’ river!”

On the one hand, I agree wholeheartedly that playwrights deserve all the recognition they can get for their immense contribution to theater. I love that Portland’s reputation as a hotbed of new play activity has burgeoned in recent years. This would have been a great year for the Drammy Committee to recognize some outstanding new works.

On the other hand, I often have a visceral reaction to artistic whininess. The “nobody respects my genius” stance can get tiresome. Just being honest here.

The positive outcome of this kerfuffle is the decision to create a Drammy subcommittee to consider recognition of new plays. That's a smart move.

BTW, as long as we’re being whiny about being unrecognized, did anyone ask Oregon Children’s Theatre to sign the letter? That local company commissioned and produced the world premiere of “Gossamer” last fall, working with the Newbery Award-winning author Lois Lowry as she adapted her own novel for the stage. More important than being recognized with a Drammy for that work is the fact that at least two other children’s theaters are producing the play in their upcoming seasons. Another company is producing "Ghosts of Treasure Island," which OCT commissioned in its 2007-2008 season, and several productions of "The Giver" have been mounted around the country since OCT premiered it a few years before that.

Full disclosure: I work for OCT.

Answer to the question: Nobody asked.

Steve Patterson said...

Dear Mighty Toy (I love writing that):

A number of notable Portland playwrights were left off the letter and expressed some unhappiness in that regard. I've been on the edge of the action, but I think I can say the oversights weren't deliberate. Rather, I think it happened because the folks pulling the letter together were moving quite quickly to respond while the Drammies were fresh. The OCT people definitely should have been contacted.

It's a pleasant dilemma we face: Portland's just got a bucketload of playwrights, past and present.



P.S.: There's also a very real business component at work when it comes to plays being recognized by the Drammies in that winning playwrights can then include "my Drammy-winning play..." when they're shopping the piece for further productions, and, especially these days, any bit of leverage helps.

MightyToyCannon said...

Dear Splatt (That is fun!),

Thanks for commenting. I was guessing that the letter signing was a rushed affair, so am not really put out about it. I was blowing a horn and my inner-snark voice came out.

I've certainly written my share of grant proposals that use the phrase "Drammy-award winning blah blah blah." (Which is an improvement over "Willy-winning...").

While I'm hear, I want to add that I admire the hard and challenging work of all the members of the Drammy Committee. I wouldn't want to be you.

MightyToyCannon said...

Please ignore the typo in the preceding comment. I do know the difference between "hear" and "here."