Friday, October 16, 2009

Playwright Steven Dietz, for beginners

When Trinity Repertory Company announced its 2009-2010 season and I saw that a play by Steven Dietz was included my first reaction was, "Who?"

And that surprised me, because even though I haven't been a regular theatergoer for that long, I like to think that I recognize the names of most well-known playwrights.

Previews begin tonight at Trinity Rep for his romantic comedy Shooting Star. It features Kurt Rhoads and Nance Williamson, a real-life married couple, portraying two former lovers who meet unexpectedly in a snowbound airport. The play runs through Nov. 22.

And despite my ignorance, Dietz is a prolific playwright. Shooting Star, from 2008, is his 31st play to be produced. This article calls him "arguably one of the most widely produced living playwrights in the country" and notes that his "well-made plays - tight and polished" are suited to regional theatre.

He's been able to earn a living doing something he loves, no small feat for a playwright:

"I've never written a hit play. I've never written a masterpiece. And when colleagues of mine had those moments, oh, man am I envious," he says with a chortle and a wide smile. "But the flip side of all that is that I have a career (as a playwright). The art form and the deadline business of the art form has let me - or forced me - to write a lot of plays."

Among his most produced plays are Lonely Planet, about the AIDS epidemic, and God's Country, about the role of a white supremacist group in the murder of Denver talk-show host Alan Berg. He's also written plays about Sherlock Holmes (Love to see that one!) and Dracula (No thanks!)

Dietz, 51, grew up in Denver and graduated from the University of Northern Colorado. He moved to Minneapolis after college, where he honed his craft at the Playwrights' Center. From 1991 to 2006 he was based in Seattle, and now divides his time between there and Austin, Texas, where he teaches at the University of Texas.

In 2004, he talked to Playbill about the virtues of not being a New York-based writer:

"As much as I wanted my early plays to have a big New York success, the very fact that they didn't — or more importantly, didn't go to New York and get hammered — meant that I got to write my next play, and my next play. So I feel like I've had this 20-year apprenticeship. I've gotten to learn my craft."

Dietz is also familiar to readers of American Theatre magazine, which published his Audience Manifesto. It says, in part:

"Tell your theatre that you're ready for anything, and that you plan to let them know exactly what you think of it, good or bad. Getting your money's worth is not good enough. Get your heart and mind's worth. As artists and audiences, together we share the theatre. Together we share this grand, eloquent, messy, unpredictable experiment. Let's revel in that."

I especially like that line about getting your money's worth isn't enough. He's right, it's about getting your heart's and mind's worth. It's about something that makes you think or moves you. Hopefully, it does both.


Pam said...

I've been waiting anxiously to see this play ever since I read it in this season's line up at Trinity. I know absolutely nothing about playwrights, but the plot sounds intriguing. I have tickets for November 6 and can't wait to see it. I just saw Cabaret there this past weekend, and it was excellent. I loved it!

Marie said...

We saw the play last night. It was wonderful. Standing ovation. I admire the truthfulness and social commentary. Both occured while laughing my head off.

Esther said...

Hey Pam, unfortunately I missed Cabaret but I heard great things about it. I'm looking forward to Shooting Star, though. I love smart romantic comedies! I have a friend who saw these two actors at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival and really enjoyed their work.

Esther said...

Thanks for the comment, Marie! I'm so glad you had a great time. I'm looking forward to laughing! And I love truthfulness and social commentary in my theatergoing, too.