After years of crafting the script for Telling Lives, Faye Sholiton proudly finished her play in 2001 and began pitching it immediately. But after submitting it to a number of playhouses, the envelopes kept coming back unopened due to the anthrax fears that ran rampant following 9/11. "It seemed to be a sign," Sholiton recalls.
This January, Sholiton's play, which tells the story of a daughter who attempts to edit her mother's life after reading her autobiography, will finally be performed as a full production thanks to Dobama Theatre's Playwrights' Gym program. The 2-year-old program, named for the former YMCA building where Dobama resides, allows playwrights to work closely with a director to hone their plays as much as they'd like by way of table reading, public reading, even a full-fledged production.
"We don't do anything until both the playwright and the director feel ready to move on to the next step," Sholiton explains.
After a work's initial public reading at the theater, the director asks the audience for feedback. Gym founder Joel Hammer prefers playwrights to be absent from this session so they're not overwhelmed by opinions. "Sometimes the playwright is a bit sensitive," he explains.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of Gym is the opportunity to have continuous support for a work as it grows into a full-fledged stage production.
"There aren't that many opportunities in Cleveland to develop new work," says Gym playwright and director Christopher Johnston. "You can write a play on your own. You can pitch it to a theater. But in Gym you have a sustained development of a new work."