LAWRENCE – With an upcoming sabbatical from his teaching duties, a Hall Center for the Humanities Fellowship and now the support that comes from having been named a Core Writer by the Minneapolis-based Playwrights’ Center, Associate Professor of English Darren Canady has only the blank page to conquer.
Canady, author of such recent plays as “Ontario Was Here” (a drama set in a child welfare office) and “Black Butterflies” (which examines the school-to-prison pipeline), was recently named one of the Playwrights’ Center’s six Core Writers in the class of 2018-21. The program provides financial and other forms of support, Canady said.
The center promises to support the rehearsal process and to stage one workshop production per year by each Core Writer during the three-year fellowships. The center also presents the Core Writers’ work as part of an annual festival attended by decision-makers from regional theatres nationwide.
There is also the possibility of various other forms of support, from hiring performers for readings to providing rehearsal space. The Playwrights’ Center will also consider supporting co-productions with a local company that the Core Writer engages.
“You are expected to create a new script every year, and that script will get a workshop production,” Canady said. He also intends to work on revisions of previous play scripts, at least during the first year of the program, he said.
He said the center is part of Minneapolis’ vibrant theatre scene as well as a national force for new writing.
“The center makes sure playwrights have a voice in the major programming decisions of Minneapolis theatre,” Canady said, “and because of the size of the scene, the Playwrights’ Center is really part of the larger national discussion about theatre creation.”
Canady said being named a Core Writer will make him part of the Playwrights’ Center “family.”
“They are not only shepherding the work,” Canady said. “I can come out for 10 days, and we are going to rehearse with professional actors; I can bring in a director; I am going to rewrite. But they are also creating a connection on the back end between that play and other theatres.
“The tricky thing is to get your play in front of decision makers – artistic directors and literary managers. They get swamped with scripts. The Playwrights’ Center does send out your scripts all over the place when you feel ready. And you do it, or your agent does it, too.
“But it’s a lot easier to get someone to say, ‘If we fly you up, will you commit two hours to watching this play be performed?’ It’s a lot easier to come through that way than by sending a script into oblivion.
“If you can show an artistic director that, hey, this script actually has some possibilities, particularly when you see and hear it on its feet, that could be the kind of moment when someone says, ‘I want to do this’ or ‘I want to commission you to write something for us.’
“That’s what the center really is dedicated to doing. Making sure playwrights have a place to develop and make connections into the broader theatre network.”
Canady said he had thought about applying for the Playwrights’ Center’s Core Writer program for several years but waited until he had an idea for a script that he wanted to work on. A description of that notion is part of the application process, he said.
He’s been thinking about a drama inspired by recent events on both the KU and University of Missouri-Columbia campuses involving the activist groups Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk and Concerned Student 1950, respectively.
“It’s a look at where sports, race and social justice meet up on college campuses,” Canady said. He has already envisioned certain characters and their involvement with the dramatic potential inherent in intragroup relations, not to mention a threatened players’ strike before the big game. He said he can already tell it will involve one of the largest number of characters he has written.
Canady said he plans to read up on the subject and interview people involved in the real-life incidents to help him in his writing process.
Then he’ll sit down in front of those blank pages to write the first of three plays in three years to which he has committed as part of the Playwrights’ Center Core Writer program.
Photo: Seun Soyemi (left) and Brittany Smith starred as social workers in Darren Canady’s "Ontario Was Here" earlier this year. Credit: Chris Bartelski/Aurora Theatre.