In 2003, an ambitious group of 13 young playwrights began a grand experiment. Weary of readings and developmental workshops that doomed new plays to a short and unfulfilling life below the radar of the theater world at large, they banded together to form a collective that actually makes plays happen. And so 13P was born. Their motto says it all: "We don't develop plays. We do them."
13P consists of playwrights Sheila Callaghan, Erin Courtney, Madeleine George, Rob Handel, Ann Marie Healy, Julia Jarcho, Young Jean Lee, Winter Miller, Sarah Ruhl, Kate E. Ryan, Lucy Thurber, Anne Washburn, and Gary Winter. When each playwright's production slot comes up, she or he acts as the company's Artistic Director throughout the production process until 13P has a fully realized production on its hands. Since its inception, 13P has won much critical acclaim as well as an OBIE in 2005 for their bold and inventive new model of play production.
Nine years and 11 plays later, 13P is ready to dissolve. The playwrights knew from the beginning that their lofty endeavor was a finite project. The collective recently announced its upcoming ImPlosion Season, where it will produce its final 2 shows and then disband. This February, 13P will launch Erin Courtney's A Map of Virtue at the 4th Street Theatre, directed by Ken Rus Schmoll. The 13th and final show will be a premiere by Sarah Ruhl, to be presented in summer 2012. The ImPlosion Season will also feature A People's History of 13P, a video archive available at 13P.org and the ImPlosion Party—one final bash for the group to go out with a bang.
With the imminent "ImPlosion" of 13P, we at Playscripts thought we'd look back at the infancy of this cutting-edge organization. Playscripts has the honor of publishing the first two plays ever produced by 13P. Check out the inaugural 13P production: The Internationalist by Anne Washburn (P#1). The company kicked off its experiment with this provocative tale of an American man on a business trip abroad who is thrust into a world that feels like living in a foreign film without subtitles. Premiering in New York City in April 2004, The Internationalist continues to enjoy success today, as with its current run at the convergence-continuum theater in Ohio. The playwright has also recently updated the play — contact Playscripts for more details on the updated version.
We also had the chance to catch up with Anne Washburn to discuss the evolution of 13P over the years:
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What most inspired you to help form a group like 13P?
AW: There are now more opportunities for playwrights to have a production of their work in a smaller space, or with a smaller company. And I think there's a little more discussion now about new and alternative aesthetics and voices, and how these can be understood and supported. At the time it felt as though theaters didn't quite know what to do with a lot of the new work which was going around; they'd be attracted to a play, pick it up and worry it through their fingers for a while, finally drop it; another theater would pick it up, finger it all over—finally the piece was shopworn and no one wanted it. There were also a few examples of interesting plays being picked up by big theaters, given the wrong kind of director, dramaturged in an unfortunate way, and failing in a bad public manner. People would talk these stories over in bars and become excitable.
As P#1, how did it feel to have your play act as the inaugural production for the company?
AW: It was great fun. Everyone involved in the production—the director, actors, designers, techs, interns—felt like they were involved in a larger project which they personally wanted to support, so the mood of the whole thing was lovely.
How has 13P helped you grow as a playwright?
AW: It helped my career a ton. My 13P play, The Internationalist, has a lot of made-up language, an elliptical story structure. It's hard to make sense of on the page and is exactly the kind of play which theaters would have been intrigued by but never, ever done. The Vineyard came to see it, and then produced it in its own season a few years later. That led to other productions of that and other plays.
Now that 13P's "ImPlosion" is imminent, how do you feel the company has grown since its inception in 2003? Do you see other companies taking inspiration from 13P's production model?
AW: When we had the first meeting I think the only person who thought we'd actually complete even one production was Rob. So our sense of confidence has increased. Operationally, of course, it's much smoother, as we've been lucky enough to attract terrific volunteers. In important ways it hasn't changed and can't change: 13 playwrights, order determined at the start, each playwright given free range to choose their material—our core goal was just to get the plays up, which is exactly what we've done, and continue to do.
I do know of some companies inspired by the 13P model, it's a great thing, and we hope that our implosion will inspire even more.
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13P's second production, The Penetration Play by Winter Miller (P#2) ran at the Mint Theater from November-December 2004, and is also a standout member of the Playscripts catalog. This dark comedy focuses on a trio of women steeped in desire during the last weekend of summer on the Jersey Shore. Take some time to read through the free script sample on the Playscripts website of the play The New York Times called "Cracklingly funny. An erotically charged comedy about the flexibility of sexual identity."
For more from the innovative minds of the 13P playwrights, take a look at their many other original works featured in the Playscripts catalog. Sheila Callaghan's Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake), Madeleine George's The Most Massive Woman Wins, Erin Courtney's Demon Baby, Lucy Thurber's Liberal Arts College, and Ann Marie Healy's Dearest Eugenia Haggis are all sure to provoke and challenge.
Though 13P will soon be no more, Playscripts looks forward to other groups of playwrights taking inspiration from this visionary organization. Why not take the 13P challenge and follow in their footsteps to continue creating fresh, new plays for the modern theater?
--Erin Salvi, Playscripts Customer Service Associate and Freelance Editor