Since 2005, Philadelphia’s PlayPenn New Plays Development Conference has aided playwrights, new and veteran, in workshopping, honing and staging full readings of the some of the planet’s most forceful theater works. And for this year’s conference — slated for July 5 through 24 at the Drake Theater — PlayPenn once again seeks the finest in its field.
“Getting the community involved was crucial, so we had 80 diverse readers helping us to choose this year’s scripts. And we wanted the playwrights to be Philly folks solely this year with Philly-area dramaturgs and actors as well. We made a lot of changes this year,” says Artistic Director Che’Rae Adams of her last seven months in Philadelphia, a sense of duty that also fell to Associate Artistic Directors Susan Dalian and Santiago Iacinti.
PlayPenn has been working to right the ship since its crisis of conscience between 2020 and 2021 when founder Paul Meshejian acknowledged racism and sexual misconduct within the organization and board (and left because of it). Now, PlayPenn 2022 has dealt with its issues, swiftly, by bringing in a crack new team – Adams, Dalian and Iacinti. Plus, for 2022, PlayPenn is focusing on local playwrights for its dramatic developmental celebration of bracing new theater with Ken Kaissar, Nimisha Ladva, Stephanie Kyung Sun Walters, Brie Knight, Ian August, Santiago Tonauac Castro, Kevin Esmond, Julie Zaffarano, Geo Decas O’Donnell and Carl(os) Roa.
“Most of the time I have spent in this role has been about reimagining and re-creating PlayPenn, and re-building community,” says Adams.
While Iacinti mentioned that part of their job was to create committees with oversight to ensure diversity (“with every play approached by multiple readers”), Dalian was excited by how great the plays submitted were.
“I knew that they would be good – that is PlayPenn’s reputation – but I was surprised at how many playwrights were that good,” she says. “It’s lovely to see a community that has such strong playwriting.”
California out-of-towners, before moving to Philly for PlayPenn, this executive board trio had to deal with 2020’s controversies of white bias and sexual harassment before moving forward. In righting these wrongs, Dalian made sure that healing the theater community, local and beyond, was paramount to their cause.
“We have many things in place to make sure those things never happen again, and if they do, we have a course of action to take care of it immediately,” she said. “The thing that is most important is the playwrights and the plays, and making sure their diversity and needs are respected…. We need incubators such as a PlayPenn so that new voices and new theater get heard and staged.”
Each new PlayPenn board exec knows well the rules that they must set, then follow for the sake of diversity and making certain that all fresh voices are heard. Still, there is the instinct of great theater that is just as equal a part in the PlayPenn process.
“Policy is primary…. but rules are secondary for me,” says Dalian. “At the end of the day, PlayPenn is about the story. As a director, I have to be able to see it, it in my mind or in a space. If I can see it in my mind, that’s the hook. The rest of it is development. We’re working with PlayPenn’s playwrights to develop their plays.”
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