ATLAS: Playwrights

Theatre Bay Area, the largest regional theatre service organization in North America, supports diverse programs and activities in support of its mission “to unite, strengthen, promote and advance the theatre community in the San Francisco Bay Area”.  One of the most popular and beneficial programs – ATLAS (Advanced Training Leading Artists to Success) — focuses on individual artists and helping them “develop tools to make a satisfying artistic life in Bay Area Theatre.”

ATLAS was initially developed by Theatre Bay Area in 2008 as a resource for actors to identify personalized career goals and to better understand where they fit in the Bay Area theatrical landscape.  Actors took classes covering time management, financial tools, marketing strategies, and goal-setting.  It expanded in 2012 to include a program for directors and this summer/fall marks the inaugural round for playwrights, ATLAS: Playwrights. The program is designed to lead artists through the process of developing a personal career map. Leslie Martinson, one of the original architects of the ATLAS program, said in a 2012 interview: “It’s been invigorating to see these folks take the reins on their own careers. They get the logistics well in hand and the artistic growth does follow.”

Each year, a few participants in the ATLAS program are chosen to receive a Titan Award, which includes a $1,000 grant toward the implementation of specific goals on their career map, a year-long mentorship with a field professional, and “other career-boosters”.   To date, approximately 200 artists have participated in TBA’s ATLAS programs, and 29 have received Titan Awards to help them realize their career goals. Of the nineteen playwrights in the current ATLAS: Playwrights (Fellowship Track) Program, three will receive Titan Awards.  (Even if not accepted as one of the Fellowship Track ATLAS Playwrights, playwrights may participate in ATLAS classes on an individual registration basis.)

The nineteen ATLAS Playwrights each had to meet stiff minimum eligibility requirements including having a resume that clearly showed at least one of the following:

  • have received at least two full productions
  • have the equivalent of one year full-time playwriting training
  • have received at least one full production AND at least two public staged readings

In addition, they all had to be available to participate in one of the planned Playwrights Showcases either in San Francisco with the Bay Area Playwrights Festival on July 24 or in Palo Alto as part of TheatreWorks’ New Works Festival on August 11.

I was not able to catch the first showcase in San Francisco (personal schedule conflict) where these ATLAS Playwrights read samples of their work:  Cassie Angley, Jonathan Spector, Marissa Skudlarek, Paul Heller, Roberta D’Alois, Vicki Siegel, Vonn Scott Bair, Martin Schwartz, Chas Belov and Andrea Mock.

I did attend the Playwrights Showcase at TheatreWorks’ New Works Festival in Palo Alto last Sunday and heard brief interviews with nine playwrights by Brad Erickson, Executive Director of Theatre Bay Area, followed by five-minute readings  from each of them.   The works ran the gamut from works- in-process (including Aimee Suzara‘s A History of the Body and Elizabeth Gjelten‘s A Pastor’s Wife) to workshopped pieces (like JC SamuelsAshtad and Dardanos) to fully produced plays (including Garret Groenveld‘s The Hummingbirds which won the Internationalists Global Playwrighting Prize in 2012). Genres and subjects were an eclectic mix ranging from a contemporary musical inspired by Cyrano (Anne Dimock’s to historic feminist themes (The Suffrage Play by Susan Sobeloff) to children’s theatre (and Min Kahng livened up the room by splitting his time between reading and singing (quite well!) from his musical adaptation of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon).  In a very strong field, my purely subjective favorites were readings from Ignacio Zulueta‘s Kano & Abe (a daly city bible story) (a scene between two filipino immigrant brothers that was both very funny and very poignant) and Patricia Minton‘s Moments of Truth (a  chamber musical about art, truth and love, with music and lyrics by Caroline Altman).  I am looking forward to seeing all the plays I heard tantalizing bits from at this fun showcase.

 So, what’s next for these ATLAS Playwrights?   (Besides writing, writing and more writing, of course.)  Seventeen hours of training in September; creation and development by the playwrights of their individual career maps (including specific steps to reach their desired goals, a timeline and the expected result of reaching their goals); feedback from the Playwrights Showcases to be shared with the playwrights during the training to help in the development of their career maps; networking; maybe a Titan Award; almost certainly, making some life-long friends.

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