We recently chatted with Playhouse Artistic Associate Carl Menninger about our newest artistic program, The Sandbox….
Windy City Playhouse: What was the impetus for you and Artistic Director Amy Rubenstein to start a new works reading series?
Carl Menninger: One way to cultivate new plays is to give playwrights a platform for their work and venue where they can develop their scripts in a supportive, nurturing environment. Windy City Playhouse is committed to assisting playwrights in their process and thus began our Sandbox series.
WCP: How does our program differ from others in Chicago and regionally? Why did you see the need for the Playhouse to have a new works initiative when there are other play reading series in town?
CM: We are specific about the kinds of submissions we are looking for. Our guidelines state that “All submissions must be full-length comedies aligned with the theatre’s mission of presenting contemporary, relevant, approachable plays accessible to audiences of all kinds.” These guidelines narrow our focus and set us apart in terms of the kinds of plays we’re looking to present.
Given the overwhelming number of submissions we’ve had in the last ten months, it’s clear that there’s a need to provide playwrights with an opportunity to cultivate and develop their craft and their work.
WCP: Why “The Sandbox?” What does that name indicate about this new program?
CM: This series is our chance to give actors, directors, dramaturgs and playwrights a chance to “play together in the sandbox” if you will. The stakes are not as high in a reading as they are in a full production. So it’s an opportunity to take risks, make mistakes, collaborate and create in a safe, low risk way. What child doesn’t love to play in a sandbox? The possibilities for creativity are endless.
WCP: By definition, a “new work” needs editing. Refinement. But what are the core pieces of the play that must already be there for you to know the piece has potential to grow?
CM: Plays about about compelling people in compelling situations. We always start there. We’re also the basics of good playwriting – clear conflict, motivated characters, stories driven by action, etc.
WCP: With that in mind, what drew you to Ivan Faute’s ELEPHANT?
CM: The story is about a young woman who returns from Africa to introduce her family to her new fiancé. He is an elephant – a real elephant. I would say that’s fairly compelling. Ivan (the playwright) has a knack for comedy and dialogue so he deftly handles the situation in a funny and thought-provoking way.
WCP: As a playwright, Carl, what do you wish people knew about the writing process? What do you think is misunderstood or mis-characterized?
CM: I teach playwriting at American University and I read many submissions to the Sandbox series. One of the biggest missing elements in the new plays I read is action. Plays are driven by action – a character sets out to achieve a goal and comes up against a series of obstacles. This sounds so simplistic but it’s difficult to actually achieve, and to achieve it in a compelling manner is the additional challenge.
Join us for a reading of ELEPHANT on Monday, April 17th at 7:00 PM! This event is free, but reservations are recommended.