Aaron and I are both members of the Playwrights Union, but we have only met recently, first at South Coast Reps Pacific Playwrights Festival and then I had an opportunity to sit down with him and Emilie Beck for an interview for the LA Stage Times. I thought he was fun and thoughtful, so I wanted to get his take on something I always wanted to know: how do you balance being a playwright and a literary manager? A LOT of playwrights are literary managers… which makes sense… a playwright reads a lot of plays (should, anyway), they know A LOT about plays… they would be an EXCELLENT person to help program a season. But… as a playwright, wouldn’t it drive you crazy that YOUR plays aren’t always in the season? Wouldn’t you just want to program YOU YOU YOU all the time? (Ok, maybe not every playwright is into themselves as I am…)
So… let’s see how Aaron does it…
Living The Double Life
I was thrilled when Larry asked me to write about my experience, as it pertains to my double life as both a playwright/theatre maker and literary manager at The Theatre @ Boston Court (I’m actually a co-lit manager, along with another theatre maker, Emilie Beck). After the thrill passed, a bit of dread set in. How would I address both the joys and challenges of my position(s)? How would I possibly, in 3 or 4 paragraphs, manage to communicate the complicated nature of helping to decide seasons while also trying to advocate for my own work out in the world? How would I also manage to fit in plugs for my own upcoming shows (“Cave…A Dance for Lilith”, a co-production between theatre dybbuk and LA Contemporary Dance Co., opening this November)? Okay, one down!
I should first admit, in the interest of full disclosure, that my life as a playwright is a somewhat unusual one. I write and direct most of my pieces, often collaborating with artists in other disciplines, develop work with ensembles and am the artistic director of theatre dybbuk (see the plug above!), a new company whose work is dedicated to exploring Jewish myths, folklore and history. As a result, I am not often submitting my plays for consideration to either theatres or development conferences. While I would surely love to see my work on the Boston Court stage, my particular artistic and career path makes it is easier than it might be otherwise to put aside my own desires to see my plays produced so that I might be, first and foremost, in service of the Boston Court’s mission. And that brings me to the topic of “mission” – Like most theatres and not-for-profit organizations, The Theatre @ Boston Court is a mission based company. When we are choosing seasons, the largest factor for consideration is how and if the work meets up with our mission in the most effective way. In my capacity as Co-Literary Manager, I share a great deal in conversations about many plays and whether or not they are right for our theatre. This means that I have read a lot of work that I love, but am not able to advocate for because these pieces may not be the greatest match for our mission. When this is the case, I try to share those plays with other theatre companies whose interests more closely align with the work. Since I joined the Boston Court in 2008, I have learned a great deal about the complex nature of programming. Not only must we consider mission, but we must also look at the entire shape of the season (we program 4 mainstage shows a year) and the overall story we are telling. We must also factor in budgetary restrictions, as well as artist and play availability. Being a part of such discussions has really helped me to have a little more peace when a project of mine doesn’t work out for whatever reason. I have come, in a less theoretical and more “in my gut” way, to really understand that nothing is personal and that when something is not chosen, that there are any number of reasons above and beyond “quality.”
What I haven’t gotten to mention: The really great benefits I’ve received as a member of the Artistic Staff at BC. I get to engage in great and in-depth discussions with colleagues about not only the specific plays we are considering, but the general landscape of the American theatre. I get to read a ton of plays of all sorts, which then helps me look at my own work in new ways. I get to attend theatre gatherings as both a playwright/director and a literary manager, giving me many points of contact with my fellow artists. Since Boston Court has a focus on new plays, I also get to apply my dramaturgical skills by offering feedback on work as it develops towards production. Again, this can often reveal the kinds of questions I need to be asking of my pieces.
Are there challenges I haven’t touched on? Of course! The biggest of these is probably the fact that I have so many close colleagues and friends who are wonderful playwrights whose work is not included in the seasons I help to choose, for any of the myriad number of reasons I alluded to above. These are smart people who I treasure and so it can be challenging, if only sometimes in my own head, to navigate through the waters of these personal and professional relationships. Also, I struggle with time management. How do I balance dedicating my energies to others’ works and responding to queries and submissions with the needs of my own pieces and theatre dybbuk? I imagine that I do it like anyone else who has a variety of commitments – Imperfectly.
Thanks for reading and I do hope you will come check out Boston Court’s summer production of “The Government Inspector”, a world premiere adaptation by Oded Gross, co-produced by Furious Theatre Company. I also hope that I will see you in November for the big dance theatre shebang that I and my collaborators are putting together. Happy making!
Aaron Henne is a Southern California based theatre maker and artistic director of theatre dybbuk. His plays include King Cat Calico Finally Flies Free! (published by Original Works Publishing) and Sliding Into Hades, which received the LA Weekly Awards for Playwriting and Production of the Year. Aaron has worked in various capacities with companies such as Culture Clash, The Colony Theatre, Center Theatre Group and The Theatre @ Boston Court, where he serves as Co-Literary Manager. His exploration of machines and their relationships to humanity, Body Mecanique, was developed and produced by LA Contemporary Dance Company.
Mr. Henne’s exploration of Kafka’s “The Castle”, A Man’s Home, and Mesmeric Revelation, a clash of science and mysticism, were both developed and produced by Central Works in Berkeley, CA. His playwriting process book, You Already Know, is available through Writ Large Press. He teaches writing for the Playwrights’ Program at The Robey Theatre Company, is a mentor at Otis College of Art and Design and has taught storytelling workshops at Disney and LucasFilm. Aaron is a proud member of The Playwrights Union and board member for The Association for Jewish Theatre.