Backstage: Dramatists Guild of America appoints D.C. area representative


Playwright Gwydion Suilebhan is the new Dramatists Guild of America representative for the D.C. area. (Matt McClain/for The Washington Post/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
April 10, 2012

Gwydion Suilebhan has been named the Dramatists Guild of America’s official representative for the D.C. area.

This means two things. One, the Dramatists Guild is recognizing Suilebhan, a D.C.-based playwright, theater blogger and resident playwright for the Taffety Punk Theatre Company, whose plays have been produced, commissioned, read and workshopped all over Washington (including at Theater J and Active Cultures) and across the country in cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Two, perhaps an even bigger deal: The Dramatists Guild is recognizing Washington.

Previously, the District, Baltimore and Virginia had been represented as one unit. The fact that Washington has garnered individual representation is a stride forward for a city whose reputation as a theater center lags behind its reality.

The unpaid position will connect Suilebhan with Dramatists Guild representatives from other U.S. cities who work, communicate and advocate on behalf of the guild’s 6,000-plus members: playwrights, composers, librettists and lyricists.

“My hope is that being affiliated with the guild will help me bring more resources to bear on the work I’ve already been doing,” Suilebhan said, citing his efforts to help D.C. playwrights connect through means such as playwright slams, planning meetings and social media. “And that will help connect the world of D.C. playwrights to the larger world of American playwrights.”

Suilebhan, who has maintained his blog since August 2010 and co-founded and co-moderates the D.C. Area Playwrights Facebook group with Rebecca Gingrich Jones, believes he can use online experience to “contribute to the guild, especially in regard to the way it represents itself digitally and uses digital tools to organize.”

“I feel as if I’ve already been doing this job,” he said. “And now I get the title.”

Women make their mark

The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival will recognize a majority of female student playwriting finalists and award winners — 14 out of 22 playwright participants — at this year’s event, which runs Monday through April 21.

“In a way, it’s sad that I have to be excited about the fact that we’ve got such a majority of female playwrights,” said Gregg Henry, the ACTF’s artistic director. “But with the current national conversation about equity between male and female playwrights, it just felt really good as the numbers were coming in and selections being made.”

Entries are judged anonymously, he explained. “It really was that these plays were recognized as the strongest. . . . These were the most exciting, most interesting, most progressive, most theatrically vivid voices that we identified during the course of the year.

“It’s a real national concern. . . . I think, the root of the question [is that] it’s pretty evident that women are making up a large percentage, if not a majority, of MFA playwriting programs. So what’s off to me is . . . it’s not as if [those programs] are not finding the outstanding female voices, because they are,” said Henry. It’s the disconnect between the awareness of that talent and the production of work by those talented people that Henry can’t explain.

Monday to April 21, 2700 F St. NW, www.kennedy-center.org, 202-467-4600.

Perilous journey

One month before his fifth birthday, Jay Alvarez boarded a boat. His family was sneaking out of Cuba and escaping to the United States, an experience Alvarez would ultimately mold into a one-man show, “Be Careful! The Sharks Will Eat You!” (See review on this page.) But at the time it was just a boat, the quiet and the endless water.

“I remember the moment when I was put in the boat,” he said. “I remember the sounds. I remember the whispers. You know when you’re searching for a radio station and you have the static? That will always, to this day, take me back to this place in time. The hushness of it.”

The play is primarily based not on Alvarez’s memories, but his father’s. Alvarez’s nephew made a recording of Alvarez’s father recounting his story, and it is that recording that Alvarez referred to while writing his script. Alvarez’s family had no idea he was writing a show, and at first, Alvarez didn’t know, either.

“On some gut level, I might have thought it could be a good show,” he said. “But I never started writing it with the intentions of it becoming anything.” For two years, Alvarez abandoned the project, not mentioning its existence to anyone. Later, fate intervened when he skipped a callback for an HBO show (either “How to Make it in America” or “Boardwalk Empire,” he can’t remember which one) to participate in a play reading for a friend. At the reading, he met Theresa Gambacorta, who helped Alvarez develop the script and directed his original production in June 2010 in New York. The current production stays true to that initial direction, except for “minor tweaks.”

The New York-based Alvarez lived in Washington for 10 years, studying with Joy Zinoman at the Studio Theatre and doing a summer program at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. After he finishes the run at MetroStage, Alvarez hopes to take the show to Miami and Minneapolis. “But the goal is to make it into a full-length musical version of the show” with a full cast, he said, though that’s still a work in progress.

“It’s such a joy to remind people what people do to come to this country, especially in an age where immigrants are spoken about as a monolithic thing, like this terror that’s coming towards the country,” he said. Immigrants “come with these hopes and dreams and aspirations. They come to make something out of themselves. To be a part of the American dream.”

Through April 22, 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria, www.metrostage. org, 703-548-9044.

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