Playwriting is a blood sport

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Image courtesy of The Playwrights’ Center

The Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis is a nationally recognized incubator for new plays, and its existence has compelled many playwrights to move to Minnesota. This week Producing Artistic Director Polly Carl is leaving the Twin Cities for a new job (Director of Artistic Development) at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. Before leaving town I asked her to take a moments for an “exit interview,” and she was kind enough to oblige.

Why are you leaving the Playwrights’ Center?

PC: The decision to leave the PWC was incredibly difficult. I’ve said for many years I have the best job in the American theater, and when Steppenwolf called me my first response was “no” because I couldn’t imagine a better job than Producing Artistic Director at the Playwrights’ Center. After a visit to Steppenwolf, I realized that I would have a learning opportunity as an artist and administrator that I couldn’t pass up. Learning is my highest value.

What’s the most important thing you learned while at the Playwrights’ Center?

PC: This may sound a bit philosophical but the PWC has taught me the importance of taking the long view of my work. I’m terribly impatient about every thing. When I was given the opportunity to run the Playwrights’ Center I had a million ideas that I wanted realized immediately. This impatience can make me hard to work with and at times unreasonable. As I look at the evolution of this organization over eleven years I recognize that despite my impatience, my willingness to hang in over the long-term has allowed me to see what happens when you commit, when you persist and pursue. This experience has given me an entirely new approach to my work. This is an organization all about process and I have come to respect process and relish it.

What was the biggest challenge heading up the Playwrights’ Center?

PC: History. Every playwright who had a history with the Playwrights’ Center had an idea of how it should be run. My challenge was to harness their passions and make it into a positive. People’s passions and emotions aren’t always logical or properly targeted but as a leader you have to listen and respond AND trust your instincts even if they run counter to popular opinion.

What do you think of the health of the Twin Cities theater scene?

PC: I think the scene here has a lot going for it. I’m amazed at the talent pool–playwrights, directors, dramaturges, actors–they bring so much excellence to this community.

My biggest disappointment is that the commitment to new plays lives primarily with the smallest of companies with the smallest of budgets. I think this problem impacts how Minnesota theater is perceived nationally and I hear about it a lot when I travel. We have not done enough to build a broad audience in this town to love new plays, to crave risk, and to believe in their hearts that theater is much more than entertainment.

What would you do to change it?

PC: There’s a lot of Minnesota nice in the theater scene here. I say less nice, more excellence.

If you could impart one thing to all playwrights, what would it be?

PC: Playwriting is a blood sport.

Anything else you want the Twin Cities arts scene to know?

PC: This town is the best. It’s an artist friendly nirvana with amazing foundations who believe wholeheartedly that the arts are a necessity not an extra. It’s been a privilege to work here and I’ll miss it.