More than once this holiday weekend I winced at the cynical attitude toward new work floating around online, theater critics and award panelists shrugging and declaring a dearth of good new writing. The promotion of adventurous new work has ever been an uphill battle, an achingly familiar topic of countless conference break-out sessions and drunken rants at the corner bar but this is a weekend of thanksgiving, and to contradict the crossed-arm nay-sayers I feel an itch to write that there's much to be thankful for, and tops on my list is working with Clubbed Thumb on SuperLab, which is now up and running and hitting its stride.
SuperLab got some attention in the press a few weeks back, which is nice, but what wasn't really acknowledged is what makes this lab series particular -- what makes it, ahem, super. I mean, theaters develop new plays all the time, and separately from one another Clubbed Thumb and Playwrights Horizons produce more developmental workshops than we do together. What makes this program new is the way it strengthens the relationship between two theaters who share artistic values and a devotion to advocating new American work, but who far from share a budget category or an infrastructure. Maria Striar has eloquently compared us to the "ibis and the hippopotamus," a symbiotic relationship found between two totally divergent animals. I feel like this collaboration highlights a functional pattern in our theater ecology: a theater dubbed "downtowny" and a theater dubbed "uptowny" sharing notes and working toward the same goal.
Perhaps the mindmeld that Maria and I have developed is reflected in the fact that we never once discussed that SuperLab is a writer-driven program; we both assumed it would be so. Each step of the way, we're taking our cue from writers, shaping each lab around the moment-by-moment needs of a writer's process. At the completion of our first SuperLab, Madeleine George's play SEVEN HOMELESS MAMMOTHS WANDER NEW ENGLAND, I left with a stride in my step. Maria's blog entry describes the work we did in the room, to which I would only add that part of the success of this first go, in addition to seeing sharp, lovely play get even sharper, lovelier, we saw a great alchemy take shape between two theaters. This collaboration can only fly thanks to our staffs working side by side: Alec Strum and Kelly Hires from the PH literary department; Lisa Donadio and Alaine Alldaffer from the PH casting department; Diana Konopka, Maria's cohort and left brain at CT; and Sarah Krohn, who's helping with casting on CT's end. We're also blessed with Ann Thayer, SuperLab's Project, tirelessly acting as the liaison between both companies and each creative team.
In the last month, we programmed our next three labs. In December, we'll be spending time with Andrew Dolan's play THE MANY MISTRESSES OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, directed by Hal Brooks, and also Janine Nabers's play ANNIE BOSH IS MISSING, directed by Davis McCallum. In January, it's David Adjmi's 3C, directed by Jackson Gay. As I type this, we're in the middle of casting and designing these labs.
For these people, for these plays, I'm thankful.