The event is a milestone not only for Platt, but also for the Inkwell, a 5-year-old D.C. nonprofit that is trying to shore up some of the gaping holes in the pipeline for new American drama. Plucking Platt’s play from the vast trove of submissions it receives from across the country, the Inkwell provided “Crown of Shadows” a workshop with a professional director and actors, and made the pivotal referral that led to its Round House world premiere. To Platt’s immense pleasure, the Inkwell also put him up in a hotel here while he worked with the showcase team — a perk that made concrete for him his advancement as a writer.
“This is by far the biggest show I’ve ever had,” says Platt, who works in the front office of the Wooster Group, the New York-based performance ensemble. “It’s been overwhelming. It was definitely the first time anyone who didn’t first know my name called me to say they wanted to do my work.”
The premiere is a significant first for the Inkwell, too: It’s the first play to garner a full production by an established troupe after going through the organization’s customized multi-level development process. (Last year, a start-up company in Montgomery County, Doorway Arts Ensemble, staged the Inkwell-nurtured “Tether” by Julie Taiwo Oni.)
Lee Liebeskind, a Washington actor who serves as Inkwell’s producing director, says Round House’s embrace of Platt’s play demonstrates that Inkwell’s catalyzing mission can work. Too many new plays become ensnared in an endless cycle of tryouts, workshop productions and informal readings, without ever reaching a paying audience. The Inkwell, it seems, is in the vanguard of a new theater movement attempting to loosen the logjam and help playwrights figure out how to enter the mainstream.
Looking for fresh voices
Many theaters, especially in Washington, are developing their own methods of locating distinctive new plays. Arena Stage has gone so far as to put playwrights on its payroll for three-year stints; Shakespeare Theatre Company commissions prominent writers, such as David Ives or Robert Pinsky, to adapt classical pieces; Signature Theatre, with grants from New York financier Ted Shen, has been churning out new musicals over the past several years. Woolly Mammoth Theatre has perhaps the longest record of showcasing original plays here, and now, smaller D.C. companies such as Taffety Punk and Forum Theatre are building programs to foster new works, too.