A Note to AAPEX Artists — Caridad Svich , Carolyn German , Dr. Jamie Cutler , Hershell Norwood , Liliane Klein , Mark Clayton Southers , Players Club — AAPEX

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Note to AAPEX Artists

When I first started AAPEX, I had no clue what I was doing or getting into. Honestly, I thought it would, like many good ideas, spark and fizzle and fade away.

We are now entering our 6th year. We have produced so many events in New York - thanks largely to Liliane Klein and The Players Club - that I have lost track. We have no board of directors and we have no funding. I have to repeat this - no funding. Our New York events routinely play to packed houses and from time to time get standing ovations. People do wonder how I do this and it's just because I have paid my dues in New York over the past 22 years and because I love, respect and - most of all - enjoy my wonderful brilliant and talented New York friends, so when I send someone a script, I only send the best. In fact, my primary theorem of theatre is: give a great actress a great role and get the fuck out of her way. It never fails.

Starting last fall, AAPEX entered into a partnership with Carolyn German and the Metro Parks Theatre Department and is now the producing arm of that department's New Play Reading Series. The first two readings were AAPEX authors - in fact, Mark Clayton Southers of the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh drove down from Pa. the day of the reading of his play NINE DAYS IN THE SUN. The second two scripts were not in any sense African American, but AAPEX isn't just about scripts - it's also about the African American theatrical sensibility, which is grounded in struggle, in a fierce need to establish ground without the tools of privilege. It seems perfectly reasonable to me that the next generation of leadership in the American Theatre should and must come from these citizen artists who have harnessed the power of the theatre for it's most profound purposes.

My immediate strategy for this reading series is to balance AAPEX scripts and new musicals by Nashville songwriters.

To date, AAPEX has been represented by Hershell Norwood (BILLIE' BLUES) and Mark Clayton Southers.

Nashville songwriters have been represented by the team of Steve Leslie & Len Cohen (UMBRELLA) and Dr. Jamie Cutler (ANGELS WITHOUT WINGS).

This coming Monday, we expand our diversity platform with a reading of THE WAY OF WATER by Caridad Svich, in partnership with her organization NoPassport . The May reading will be of IT'S A RUFF LIFE - a musical about dogs by Jesse Goldberg & Gene Levine - two Nashville songwriters who belong to an interesting side of the local scene, being as they are two nice Jewish boys from New York City.

As I stop for a moment to assess exactly what is going on and where we go from here with this network, I have to chalk these first five years up to research - which has included reading more scripts than I can count, endless dialogues with all of you, with producers, artistic directors and with audience members and offering the best advice and support that I can. I have been aided immeasurably in this by our man in Miami, Dave Copeland - who created and has tirelessly edited the AAPEX blog - and that blog has become one of the most respected communications of it's kind because Dave and I are dedicated to making sure that what we post is not the same redundant crap that you see so many places. Dave's 18 years as Director of Marketing, Promotions and Publicity for Warner Brothers Studios in Florida makes him an ally who is profoundly deserving of your appreciation - and I might point out that both Dave and I do all that we do for free.

From time to time I toy with the idea of setting myself up as an "agent" - but I just can't do it. I'm a dramaturg. It's the mission that God gave me and anything an "agent" can do, I can do just as well. And where are you going to find an agent who's going to showcase your work?

The other day a query went out on the LMDA listserve re: whether "Black" playwrights are still being paid less than "White" playwrights. It's actually a strange question because any playwright can join the Dramatists Guild and take advantage of their standard contract - and if you know that you are getting a play produced, then for grief's sake, join the Guild. Two AAPEX writers who actually got plays produced completely ignored this advice and they both got screwed - royally screwed. The Dramatists Guild is there to advise and guide and in some sense protect you. The membership fee is considerably less than I have seen these two writers spend on lawyers over the past couple of years.

But if the real question is, are black playwrights determined to get their work out there regardless of financial considerations, the answer is yes. Do they have time to wait for grants that will never come. No. Are they looking for permission. Hardly. There is still a radical fire burning in our souls that was kindled in the 1960s and that has been continually fueled by living in a society where some folks think their job is to get in other folks' way. Whoever you are, you are not the boss of me.

I look forward to talking with those of you who are interested in participating in the Metro Nashville Parks Theatre Department's New Play Reading Series and I also count on you to help me promote this series as widely as possible so that having this on your resume brings with it the merit that it deserves, both for the artists and the producers.

Jaz Dorsey

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