13P, a collective of 13 playwrights, is set to implode at the close of Sarah Ruhl's Melancholy Play this week. Many articles have been written recently about the group's unprecedented formation and success, but as a theater writer my fascination with 13P has always been the effect it would have on the next group of playwrights.
The 13 playwrights of 13P formed nine years ago to realize full productions of their plays. Each playwright produces one play, serving as the artistic director of the production. The group ceases to exist once every playwright has had a production.
13P's emphasis on production over endless development (readings and workshops) has struck a chord with many playwrights. The idea that the riskier production model is more beneficial to new work is a change for many writers who often expect to work on a piece for years before a production.
Now, inspired by 13P, more playwrights are considering jumping into productions and inviting other playwrights to jump with them. New York-based playwright Mariah MacCarthy has founded two theater companies (the first of which she and her co-founder jokingly referred to as 2P) with the intention of producing both her own work and the work of her friends. "Seeing what 13P does, seeing how these playwrights supported each other, definitely gave me a model for how I should support my fellow playwrights," she said.
While torn about 13P's imminent implosion, MacCarthy hopes a "copycat group" will form, but this brings up the question of whether new 13P-style groups are necessary now that many of New York's non-profit theaters are responding to the need for more productions. Roundabout Underground, Lincoln Center Theater's LCT3, and Second Stage Uptown are just a few of the programs committed to producing the work of emerging writers.
Jill Rafson, literary manager of Roundabout Theatre Company and associate producer of Roundabout Underground, said she is not sure a new 13P is needed. "Institutional theaters are stepping up to make sure playwrights and audiences are being served well, and I think the burden of producing should be on our shoulders, not on those of the playwrights."
Playwright Andrew Hinderaker, whose play Suicide, Incorporated was the most recent production at Roundabout Underground, said he was grateful for these programs because they provide a valuable opportunity for the emerging playwright not just to have a production but to grow within the organization, as playwright Stephen Karam did by moving from Speech and Debate at Roundabout Underground up to Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre with the play Sons of the Prophet.
But even with these programs there are benefits of the collective producing model for playwrights across the country. Hinderaker graduated from the University of Texas at Austin's playwriting M.F.A. program where a group of his fellow classmates met to discuss following the 13P model, although nothing ever came of it. He still thinks it could be an exciting model for those in M.F.A. programs. "You've got a ready-made group of writers, many of whom are hungry for production," he said.
It's not only the focus on productions that has influenced playwrights. David Lawson, another New York-based playwright, finds the most inspiring aspect of 13P to be their emphasis on the business of theater. The 13P website states that the two most important decisions the group made were hiring an experienced producer and an established press representative. "For [13P], just having a good show and putting up that good show wasn't enough," Lawson said. "If they didn't have that emphasis [on the business side] the group would not have had the reach that they did."
What will the end of 13P mean for younger playwrights? "As a 26-year-old playwright, I see the implosion of 13P not being an ending as much as tossing the [do-it-yourself] baton to playwrights of our generation," Lawson said. "It's them saying 'All right kids... what are you going to do to get your shows produced?'"
As the end draws near, I'm excited that theaters are ready and willing to take chances on new writers by producing their work and that because of 13P more writers want to take the reins and make theater happen. And what effect has 13P had on me? I have begun to ask myself if I'd want to, as the 13P website describes, "develop plays through doing them" and produce my own plays and musicals. The prospect of mounting a production is quite scary, but with the support of fellow playwrights in a group like 13P I think I'd be inspired to face the challenge.