Talking to 13P, part 1

A friend of a friend told me about this new playwright’s collective called 13P. Committed to collaboratively producing each other’s plays, this ambitious project starts on April 17th with a production of Anne Washburn’s The Internationalist at 45 Bleecker Street. Ambitious or crazy? I couldn’t decide, so I thought I’d meet with two of the founding members, Rob Handel (p#4) and Madeleine George (p#11), to find out what the hell they were thinking.

ANDY: Okay, so I’m sitting in the Culturebot offices and there are 2P out of the 13P present. Do you wanna start with the challenges of thirteen people trying to get together?

ROB: Sure! Its very challenging, luckily we live in the age of email so that’s been very helpful.

MADELEINE: Well we had that lovely outstanding conference call where we had everybody together at one time.

ROB: Yeah, we actually had one meeting where we really decided that we were going to do this and actually everyone was there – and we had two people on a conference call.

MADELEINE: Two people at once! It was excellent…

ANDY: That’s very corporate of you …

ROB: Yes, it was our big corporate moment.


ROB: Well, it was because Sarah Ruhl lives in Santa Monica, right?

MADELEINE: Julie Jarcho was in Boston,

ROB: And now she’s in Barcelona so it would’ve been a much more expensive conference call

ANDY: You could do it all on IM [Instant Messenger]

ROB: That would be a mess though..imagine writing out the minutes from the meeting

ANDY: You wouldn’t have to because it would all be pre-typed

ROB: But would it be readable?

ANDY: I don’t know

[awkward pause]

ANDY: So …. tell me a little bit about the genesis of 13P?

ROB: Well the genesis began with Madeline and I, as it happens. We’re the original 2P, actually. We were at the O’Neill Conference in ’02 and we were both having our wonderful plays put up wonderfully

ANDY: Is that in ironic quotes, or…

ROB: No that was totally serious. Completely without irony.

ANDY: It’s hard to tell sometimes

ROB: Yeah, well, I grew up in the eighties.

MADELEINE: Especially with the text messaging.


ROB: And we started talking about being a playwright and its discontents. And then later Anne Washburn got brought into this discussion. So the three of us started talking more and more seriously about what we could do. I think my original idea was to have a company where the slogan would be “we don’t develop plays” because I’m very tired of being developed and seeing other people be developed. I think there’s, you know …

ANDY: It’s like Hollywood when you’re in development hell and no one knows that it happens to playwrights too, but it does, all the time.

MADELEINE: It’s much worse for playwrights because you don’t get a movie at the end. You get nothing. You just get developed and developed and then it stops. At least in movie development hell someone eventually puts on your horrible rendition of Spiderman or whatever.

ANDY: I don’t know, they don’t necessarily make your movie either.

MADELEINE: Well but with plays they’re not paying you every time you rewrite it like the movies.

ROB: Well that’s right. That’s one difference. But the other difference is that in the movies, if you’re in development for years, no one thinks its really great and that they have done something for you after they’ve had your movie in development for years. Whereas every time you have a reading or a workshop some place in New York people think they are doing you a huge favor and career boost which is really very strange…

ANDY: Because really what they have done is just given you a reading .

ROB: Right, right.

ANDY: With no real expectation of going any further than that, and that’s a challenge.

ROB: I mean it was being at the O’Neill – which again was an amazing, wonderful experience –

MADELEINE: But which is the origin of the whole “development” thing.

ROB: Right! And it made me realize that all of this process has really developed in fairly recent history. Because you know it was only sixty years ago that Tennessee Williams would bring someone a play and they would say, “Well, this isn’t done yet, it’s not ready yet. But rehearsals are going to start in February and we can fix it as we go.” Now that process is supposed to take years and involves lots of people.

ANDY: Yeah. And amazingly things still make it to the stage – big uptown productions still make it to the stage and they’re not done!


ROB: That’s so true, I think that all the time.

ANDY: I watch stuff and think “they had billions of dollars and years of development and this is what they got?!”

MADELEINE: But years of development has also sometimes – actually often – the reverse effect, weirdly. It’s like this weird lockjaw that comes over your play. It’s a combative process even though it’s supposed to be all kinds of collaborative and its really not. So you entrench in certain parts and you’ve got a dramaturg – or four, or eight – over the course of the development life of the play. All of whom have different ideas and it ends up calcifying the play instead of fixing it. That’s how that happens I think. You see plays that have been in development for a very long time and they have this weird like …. Sometimes I think of them as like appliances that are plugged in but the plug is loose in the wall. You’ll see parts where they spring to life and then it dies out again! And I think it’s because of that process where some things are beaten out of it and other things are not.

ANDY: So how does 13P intend to address this issue?

ROB: Well, by only doing productions. So no readings or workshops are allowed. And we decided to start with the very ambitious goal of doing thirteen productions: one by each of us. At which point we’ll figure out whether to implode …

MADELEINE: Or rotate new people in…

ROB: Or start over, or whatever. But since this will take us until about 2010, there’s no reason to decide that now. Oh! And the first thing that we did after the group was assembled and picked – almost entirely at random by me –

ANDY: the group was entirely assembled by you

ROB: Yes. Well, the criteria were very random and there was a lot of randomness involved. There were a few people who I thought were wonderful playwrights but I did not ask because I thought that they would be well meaning but would not actually show up for a meeting. But mostly it was just random. And they are all people whose work I absolutely adore.

ANDY: Thirteen people is a lot of people. So I mean what is the nature of everyone’s involvement? Do they give you the play and the other 12P’s hop to it and make it happen?

ROB: It’s sort of an “each according to his ability” model. I think a lot of it is just networking on a very basic level. But it eliminates the whole thing about where you think “Oh, I shouldn’t ask this person for something this week ‘cause I asked for something last week.” Instead, everybody’s asking each other for things all the time. That’s a real big part of it. People also are contributing in different ways. One of the playwrights is a brilliant web designer. Several of us have development [fundraising] experience. So that’s helpful too.

MADELEINE: I was gonna add that we do have an actual producer working on it!

ANDY: Oh, who’s your actual producer?

MADELEINE: Maria Goyanes, she’s super-amazing and awesome! But I feel like the thing is …there are two reasons why I was excited to do this besides the things that have just been said. One of them is that Rob has so much development experience and knows how to raise money. And the other is to work with actual producers. Playwrights are so awesome, but 12 well-meaning playwrights can hop to it and still nothing can happen!

ANDY: So it was good to find somebody that knew what they were doing, production-wise.

MADELEINE: Yeah. Because there is too much history of bunches well-meaning artists getting together trying to form a collective and then collapsing because of general … shiftlessness…


ROB: Well, also because everybody’s busy! I mean we all are still working to get our plays done elsewhere and develop our plays elsewhere – which, of course, is only wise. And the first thing we did was … well, we determined that everybody needed to pick their slots so that it seemed somehow concrete. Even though Young Jean’s [Young Jean Lee] play may not be done until 2010, it’s a real thing. It’s on the schedule! So that was one idea. And the other idea I had was that – you know, since we are developing work (or whatever the word is) other places, that this is also an opportunity for somebody to do something that, for whatever reason, they can’t or have not successfully brought to another theater. Like, you know: “No one will do my sympathetic incest musical!”

[hilarious jokes about musicals and incest edited out at culturebot’s discretion]

click here to read part 2.

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