Mark Twain’s well-known maxim to “write what you know” is exactly what B.J. Burton has done with her new book THE PHILADELPHIA CONNECTION: CONVERSATIONS WITH PLAYWRIGHTS. Herself a produced and published dramatist—as well as an adjunct instructor in the creative writing graduate program at Rosemont College, from which she received her M.F.A.—Burton conducted interviews with fifteen local colleagues between March 2009 and November 2011, which she updated via email exchanges in 2014, prior to the book’s release this September. The congenial discussions, with Bruce Graham, Michael Hollinger, Thomas Gibbons, Seth Rozin, Louis Lippa, Jules Tasca, Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, Ed Shockley, Larry Loebell, Arden Kass, William di Canzio, Nicholas Wardigo, Alex Dremann, Katharine Clark Gray, and Jacqueline Goldfinger, not only reveal the personalities of the individual writers, their inspirations, motivations, and creative processes, but also consider relevant issues they face in their profession, and offer sage advice to future professionals contemplating a career in the field and in this area.
Burton explores her subjects’ backgrounds—many are Philadelphia natives, some come from the Philly suburbs and environs, and others are enthusiastic transplants—probing how the city has impacted their writing in terms of themes and approach, and the differences they’ve encountered between Philadelphia and New York, Los Angeles, and the other major American centers in which they’ve lived and worked (several of the writers have had success in a variety of media and genres, including film, television, radio, and books). Their candid responses to Burton’s questions also present a kind of informal history of the Philadelphia theater scene over its three waves of expansion, from the 1970s-90s, up to its recent explosion in the new millennium. All of the playwrights, spanning across three generations, consistently acknowledge the importance of such seminal organizations as the Philadelphia New Play Initiative, Philadelphia Young Playwrights, the Philadelphia Festival Theatre for New Plays, the Philadelphia Dramatists Center, PlayPenn, the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and The Brick Playhouse for the encouragement, support, and presentation of new works-in-development, rendering the city a fertile testing ground for both aspiring writers and established icons like Graham, Hollinger, and Gibbons.
THE PHILADELPHIA CONNECTION is an interesting read, not just for members of the local theater community, but for anyone who would like to get to know the playwrights and the backstories of the works they’ve enjoyed on Philadelphia’s regional stages and beyond. Each interview is followed by a list of the writer’s awards and credits, so you can easily match the author with the play, and keep an eye out for upcoming productions of any you’ve missed.
[Chicago, Intellect Books, University of Chicago Press, September 2015, ISBN: 9781783204885]