As a playwright, you can keep writing plays and sending them off in the hope that someone else will produce them, or you can produce them yourself. A few great contemporary playwrights—David Mamet, Conor McPherson—have formed companies in part to produce their own work. For the majority, doing so means incurring much expense and using time and energy which could be spent writing.
A group of Philadelphia playwrights have adopted a solution. Emily Acker, Emma Goidel, James Ijames, Mary Tuomanen, and Douglas Williams—with producer and director Maura Krause—have come together to form a producing collective, Orbiter 3, to showcase their work.
The group is inspired by similar experiments in other cities. New York-based 13P (Thirteen Playwrights) produced a play by each of its members (including acclaimed writer Sarah Ruhl) from 2003 to 2012, and left documentation of its processes. The Welders, a similar organization in Washington, DC, is already preparing for its second-generation of playwright-producers.
Like these groups, Orbital 3 intends to exist only for a limited period, at least in its present form. The group will produce six plays over the next three years (one by each member plus a sixth by another local playwright), then disband, leaving a record of how it completed this project.
The group includes some of the most inventive talents in Philadelphia theater. Tuomanen has received many accolades for her acting (e.g., in Phindie’s critic awards for 2012/13 and 2013/14); her original work Saint Joan, Betrayed was a highlight of the 2013 Philadelphia Fringe Festival and just had a short revival at the Annenberg Center.
Ijames has won two Barrymore Awards for his acting; his The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington, produced last season by Flashpoint Theatre Company, was described in these pages as “filled with humor and hilarity [with] eruptions of anger and violence leading viewers into unexplored territory.”
Acker, Goidel, and Williams collaborated on Safe Space for the 2014 Philadelphia Fringe Festival (Krause directed). Williams also cowrote and coproduced the previous year’s Fringe hit Holly’s Dead Soldiers. His new work Moon Cave will receive its world premiere with Azuka Theatre in March 2015. Goidel’s work We Can All Agree To Pretend This Never Happened is being produced by InterAct Theatre Company next week as part of Tiny Dynamite’s A Play, a Pie, and a Pint series. Acker is the winner of the Young Playwrights Inc. National Playwriting Competition, Philadelphia Young Playwrights’ Annual Playwriting Competition, and Northwestern University’s Agnes Nixon New Work Festival.
Non-playwright member Krause is an experienced theater administrator and director. She is National New Play Network producer-in-residence at InterAct and coordinator of Philadelphia New Play Initiative.
Orbiter 3 are a welcome addition to the Philadelphia theater landscape. Established theater companies are only going to produce a limited number of new plays and an even smaller number of new plays by local writers. Producing their own work allows writers to take risks and exert artistic control over their material, even developing it in-process. Some choose to do so for one-off shows; you can see a lot of playwright-produced work in the Fringe Festival. But with the departure of John Rosenberg’s Hella Fresh Theater, Philadelphia lacks a company attempting to do multi-play seasons of original work by its own members. Pooling resources, energy, and contacts, the members of Orbiter 3 have found a sustainable way to do this. Philadelphia will be better for it.
Orbiter 3 is officially launching on November 17, 2014, with a party at Elixr Cafe [207 S Sydenham Street, near 15th and Walnut streets]. They are offering a limited number of super-cheap memberships (starting at $20 for all six shows!). Purchase a membership or donate to their project at orbiter3.org.