The rise of E3T

From left to right, playwright Chris Davis and actors Doug Wild, Denise Shubin, Zachary Chiero, and Hannah Van Sciver, and Grand Poobah Bill McKinlay.
From left to right, playwright Chris Davis and actors Doug Wild, Denise Shubin, Zachary Chiero, and Hannah Van Sciver, and Grand Poobah Bill McKinlay.

The Tuesday-night readings at Plays and Players have an official name: “E3T” which stands for “Every Third Tuesday,” which, cleverly enough is when the readings occur.  I like it.  It’s short, it’s descriptive, and I finally have something cool to type.  I’m attaching a photo from the reading three weeks ago, featuring the talented playwright Chris Davis.  I would have put it up sooner, but I couldn’t because I didn’t.  Yay!  Tautologies!

Not to beat a dead ocelot, but I love the hell out of E3T, and you should, too.  Why?  Because it fills an important hole in the play development process…the time between rough draft and solid-enough-draft-for-a-professional-reading.  The “sucky draft,” if you will.  Every play has them.  Sometimes many many sucky drafts before anything resembling anything vaguely stage-worthy emerges.  And that’s what this is…theater professionals helping playwrights through the sucky draft.

I had a curious conversation with another playwright a couple of weeks ago about E3T and the old Brick Playhouse days.  She voiced a concern to me about the loose moderation of the feedback that occurred after the reading.  In fact, she seemed to favor the PlayPenn model of readings, which have no feedback afterward.  The conversation has really been sticking in my head, and I think the crux of the issue is that we’re talking about two different things.  PlayPenn is not E3T.  It’s like comparing a hammer to a socket wrench: if you ask me, “Which is the better tool?”, I’m going to ask, “What’s the job?”

PlayPenn is representative of a particular kind of reading series (like the Humana Festival and the O’Neill Conference) that pairs playwrights with directors and actors, gives them a week to rehearse and rewrite, and presents the reading to the public.  The primary function of PlayPenn is development, not showcasing.  I mentioned this to my opposing playwright friend, and she questioned, if that were true, why have a public reading at all?  My response: two reasons.  First, watching audience reaction is ALWAYS important.  Second, promotion.  I’ve been slapped around a little for saying this, but pragmatically, readings are a great way to sell your play.  It can be tricky convincing a theater to read your script; they’re much more likely to attend a reading which is much more like entertainment than work.

The short of it is…it makes sense not to have feedback at PlayPenn.  The audience is full of theatergoers, not theater professionals.  On the whole, they’ve never written a play or had a play produced.  Sure, they enjoy seeing a good play, and they may even know what a good play looks like, but they sure as hell don’t know how to write a good play.

Having said all that, E3T isn’t PlayPenn.  E3T is populated with writers and actors and directors and other theater professionals…people who know what it takes to make a good play.  Their feedback is valuable, particularly at a time when an early draft can benefit the most from it.  I gather that my opposing playwright friend was bothered by the blunt nature of some of the feedback, but, frankly, I am a huge proponent of blunt feedback (at least, in this context).  When one plumber looks at another plumber’s work and sees something shoddy, he’s going to point it out.  We’re professionals.  We shouldn’t have to pull punches with one another, when the objective is to help the playwright.

I recall the writing workshops I attended at Carnegie Mellon.  They were rough.  Really freaking rough.  On at least two occasions (that I can recall), the author was reduced to tears.  I’m not saying E3T is or should be that—”blunt” is not the same as “insulting”—but coddling playwrights does no good.  If the fear is that a delicate playwright will have his heart broken by hearing honest feedback and swears never to write another play again, I say, “Good!”  The world is full of awful, talentless artists; let’s get rid of one more, if we can.

The next E3T meeting is next Tuesday, March 15.  Come join the fun!


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