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interview The American Playwright Insider or Outsider? At the invitation of PAJ, Des McAnuff, Martin Epstein, Jeffrey Jones and John Wellman met for a discussion on the status of the playwright in American theatre. The writers brought to the session a variety of personal experiences in U.S. theatres. A playwright and director, Des McAnuff was part of the producing collective The Dodger Theater; he has worked at the Chelsea Theater, New York Shakespeare Festival, and at the Stratford Festival, Ontario. He has recently become Artistic Director of the La Jolla Playhouse. Martin Epstein, also a playwright and director, resides in California where his plays are frequently seen at the Magic Theatre and the Padua Hills Playwrights' Workshop. Jeffrey Jones has had plays produced at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, St. Clement's, The Performing Garage, and the Bay Area Playwrights Festival. He is the business manager of the Wooster Group. John Wellman is a poet and playwright whose plays have been produced at the American Place Theatre and Ensemble Studio Theatre . This dialogue was moderated by Bonnie Marranca in January, 1983. 36 BONNIE MARRANCA: One of the things that's obvious in the last several years, with a new generation of artists, is the crisis of the writer in experimental theatre. There are several young writers who have been influenced by spatial, visual,and narrative experiments in theatre, and yet don't find a place for themselves because they are not perceived as welcome within the theatre groups. Would anybody care to address this subject? JOHN WELLMAN: I admire the work of the avant-garde-Foreman, Chaikin, Mabou Mines-and I think it has certainly influenced my thinking and my practice. But in the last few years I've come to feel a little bit opposed to the whole thing because of what I perceive is essentially a group of people who are very socially tight with each other, and not concerned with writing as a separate function. I'm not even sure that they're interested in making a theatre for all people. I think they're interested in a very particular kind of audience, and not in making theatre that any reasonably intelligent, sophisticated human being in this country can get into. And I don't particularly think that they're interested in having new voices, certainly not people in our generation, hanging around. So I feel like going my own way and seeing what can come of that. I guess I have a sense that I want to make plays that are smart and intelligent, that anybody, theoretically, could put on if they were of a mind to, and not just a group of people that I've known for ten or fifteen years. MARTIN EPSTEIN: I'd like to believe that what you are saying is true, that if you write an entertaining, intelligent, coherent play any reasonable, intelligent , sophisticated person would understand it, but I'm beginning to wonder very seriously what our idea of an audience really is? I'm very confused about who my audience is now. I used to think that I wanted to reach the widest audience possible and that they were out there. All you had to do was put the material out there. I think for me the important thing that happened in the '60s and '70s was the tremendous extent of playing with the theatre as a space, as a form, which all these people you mentioned did. And I think essentially what they were doing was shaking off all the dead skin, the sheer exhaustion of dealing with words, words, words. There was a time when I just couldn't bear the idea of "character" anymore. And I had to return to it; I had to earn the right to start feeling again as though people could sit down and have a scene together. I think we had to go through this long period where the painting sensibility and the sculpture sensibility began to play. But I really believe in words. So I see my own problem in writing as maybe doing something that is both traditional, and at the same time doing what it is that...


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