When you're a playwright working alone, it can seem like you're creating the sound of one hand typing. Unlike painting or fiction writing, theater is a collaborative art, and playwrights need feedback to give shape to their work.
"You must hear it -- you have to have someone read it back to you," says Vincent Napoli, a self-described theater junkie and recent New York transplant who is starting a workshop for playwrights. "I don't care if it's a group of pygmies listening."
With any luck Napoli's nascent Florida Playwrights Workshop will attract a tribe of enthusiastic theater writers (of various stature) who are looking for critical reaction to their own works in progress. Napoli, an on-again, off-again director and the creator of the 1976 off-Broadway success Hit Tunes From Flop Shows, wants to establish the sort of writing workshop in South Florida that is more commonplace in other parts of the country.
Napoli asserts that, whether it involves a simple read-through or a full-fledged rehearsal, workshopping "is an important step for anyone who wants to write for the theater. As a playwright, the situation doesn't stop with me writing. It only starts with me writing," Napoli explains. "You need other people's input. A good director can find things I didn't see. It may work on the page, but you need to see if it works up on its feet. I think there must be other people like me down here who must want to do a workshop."
He's frustrated that there aren't more formal opportunities. "If you're a playwright here, you're in the wrong place," Napoli says. "When I'm talking to playwrights, they all say the same thing -- that the current atmosphere isn't conducive to Florida playwrights."
While big guns such as Florida Stage and the Caldwell Theatre Company regularly conduct script searches, they cast a wide net and are able to attract writers from around the country. Napoli cites Miami-based City Theatre as one of the few South Florida institutions that regularly read new scripts from unknown Florida-based playwrights and sometimes produce them.
Another such institution is Theatre With Your Coffee, an eight-year-old group that presents two staged readings of new plays each month at the Hollywood Boulevard Theatre. Artistic director Dolores Miller says the mission of TWYC doesn't single out Florida playwrights, although submissions from locals are certainly encouraged. "At the beginning we only did local playwrights, but we didn't have enough plays," she says. "We're definitely looking." Miller, who is also the executive director of the South Florida Theatre League, points out that league members meet once a month to read new plays. "We all try to do local playwrights," she says, "but it's gotta be right."
Napoli thinks that adding another workshop to the South Florida rialto could infuse more sophistication into the theater scene, which often seems to consist of little more than touring productions of recent Broadway shows, revivals of ancient Broadway shows, and performances of plays that celebrate nostalgia for an earlier era. "I know how frustrating it is for anyone who comes down here who wants to do theater that isn't related to Molly Picon," he says, referring to the legendary Yiddish theater star and the play about her, a South Florida megahit that might seem provincial anywhere else.
"I'm not suggesting that theaters give up their commercial schedules, but would it hurt them for four weeks a year to do a Florida playwright?" Napoli asks. "There are playwrights here that want to be heard. I love Neil Simon, too, but give me a break."
-- Robin Dougherty
Writers interested in participating in the Florida Playwrights Workshop should contact Vincent Napoli by phone at 561-239-1626 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. To submit your play for Theatre With Your Coffee, mail it to TWYC, 2471 NE 199th St., Miami, FL 33180. Enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope.