09/14/2012 04:42 pm ET

13P Implodes: A Decade After Its Debut, The Innovative Playwright Collective Dissolves (PHOTOS, INTERVIEW)

13P’s motto, “We don’t develop plays. (We do them.)” lays bare their mission in just seven words.

Tired of workshopping plays and holding readings without the promise of a full scale productions, playwrights Rob Handel (P#3), Madeleine George (P#10), and Anne Washburn (P#1) rallied a group of like-minded wordsmiths to put on plays. The format would be as follows: each of the 13 playwrights would produce a full scale production of one play they’ve written. When all 13 plays were produced, 13P would implode.

The end result? A varied group of plays, ranging from one about a melancholy woman whose love interests turn into almonds, another with a Hitler youth who keeps appearing on a contemporary subway train, and another with a cameo by Monica Lewinsky. This innovative “13P model” has offered a viable means for bringing theater works out of the workshop and into the world. There is a digital archive to chronicle and document the full 10 years of the project, complete with a detailed history of the collective, an interactive timetable, specific budget sheets, and various tools to launch a 13P-esqe collective of one’s own. It’s revolutionary -- a theater model for anyone and everyone who is interested in participating.

Joe’s Pub recently hosted 13P’s "Implosion Party," which was a celebratory affair. The event was hosted by playwright Lisa Kron who milked the implosion metaphor for all that it was worth. Another treat was a performance from Anne Washburn's (P#1) play The Internationalist featuring, Jeremy Shamos, Wallace Shawn and Ken Rus Schmoll. To see Wallace Shawn up on that stage sold the evening for many. Todd Almond, Erik Lochtefeld, David Greenspan, April Matthis, and Amy Warren sang a few (hysterical!) selections from Sarah Ruhl’s (P#13) Melancholy Play (A New Chamber Piece). And then, Young Jean Lee and her band Future Wife sang from Lee’s rocking We’re Gonna Die.

HuffPost Arts & Culture caught up over the phone with playwrights Madeleine George (P#10), Rob Handel (P#3), and Young Jean Lee (P#11) to discuss the implosion, the beauty of theater, and why they'd recommend a similar model to other playwrights. Check out the slideshow below for pictures.


Huffington Post: Why did you join 13P? Where did the need for this kind of collective come from?

Madeleine George: Rob and I met at the O’Neill Playwrights Conference, which is the mothership of play development. We were both having a career breakthrough by being here but at the same time it was sort of ironic for us because we were playwrights at this point in our careers where we were having a lot of development and not a lot of productions.

And Rob had a very practical approach to it, I think he was ready to stop bitching and start doing something. And it was his idea, “What can we do that would be a corrective instead of complaining?”

Young Jean Lee: When I joined I had only written one play. So I was barely a playwright when they invited me. I may have even been the least experienced playwright on the list. So it was a no-brainer to join.

HP: Are you sad about the implosion?

Rob Handel: I’m delighted really. It’s partly because one of the reasons that the 13P model was able to exist was because it didn’t really pay people. It was showpiece template. We ran this company by meeting at Starbucks at 830 am every Thursday morning for three years. And then going to our regular jobs.

The only way to make it a sustaining model would be to relaunch it as an institution that paid salaries and had an office and things like that. That’s not something we want to do.

Young Jean Lee: No, I think it’s great. I think that the implosion is the reason why we were able to do this. You know, there is one really awesome thing about the model, which was that it was one of the most pure artistic experiences I’ve ever had. I have my own organization and the fact [is] that I have to worry about the sustainability of continuing to pay my employees and keeping a busines going. I don’t have this pure artistic experience where I can do whatever I want. It just doesn’t work that way. If you want to keep going, you can’t do whatever you want. You’re going to get shut down. [At] 13P we never had to worry about sustaining the organization into the future...and there was a purity to that that I had not experienced and will probably not experience ever again.

HP: How did you each respectively decide what play to produce?

Young Jean Lee: [We’re Gonna Die] was a co-production between 13P and my company. And they told me to do the craziest thing I could think of and my artistic mission in general is to do the craziest thing I can think of. The idea of putting myself in a one person show with singing and dancing when I couldn’t really do one of those things...the idea was horrifying to me -- that was the craziest idea I could think of. And I never would have done that with my own company in a million years. I wouldn’t have done that without 13P.

Madeleine George: I just felt like [The Zero Hour] hadn’t been completely finished. Because it had never been produced. I really wanted to live through it in time and space and it was delightful for me to feel like I could do whatever I wanted with the slot. If I wanted to go back...and do a play that was no longer the most current piece of work that I had but still was a piece of unfinished business, I could choose to do that. And for me it was very satisfying.

HP: What do you think the role of a playwright is in contemporary theater? What it should be? What do you hope will evolve?

Young Jean Lee: I wish that playwrights could work more closely with directors in developing more art. That’s what I wish for theater. My whole idea about theater and the way that I work is around the idea that theater is collaborative.

I feel like that’s how theater should be made, I always see directors fiddling with problem scripts and I always think "how crazy is that?" Why not just have the playwright there? There’s this weird antagonistic relationship between directors and playwrights and that’s unnecessary.

Rob Handel: It’s still true that I go into a room for a meeting with an artistic director, a literary manager, and I’m usually the only person in the room who doesn’t have health insurance. I still don’t have a job there, when my play’s over I have to leave.

HP: What advice would you give to a young playwright?

Madeleine George: Write plays recklessly with no regard to what you think will be produced. That’s the only way to write something brilliant that will be produced. I’m very pro-looking to your left and looking to your right and seeing who your peers are. Who you admire and just getting near them as much as possible. Writers can be so isolated, and I think that banding together with other writers is one of the greatest decisions I ever made. Not only because they’re your family to you as a writer and they know your life more intimately than people who are not writers, but also you can pool resources and trade directors and if you want, put together some kind of project-based plan for seeing your work on its feet.

Young Jean Lee: I would say get to know as many people as possible and a really good way to do that is by doing a lot of volunteering. Working for a lot of people for free. That’s pretty much the only reason why I have my own company and am writing plays. It’s all about the people I’ve met when I first moved to New York. Because theater is so much about networks of can’t do it alone. You need a lot of help. And the more people you know, the more help you’re gonna get.

Find more information about 13P here.