November 4, 2009

What's the Play That Changed Your Life?

If you love theater, there’s some play way back at the beginning that sparked your obsession, that really got to you, that changed your life.  That’s why people go to the theater.  That’s why they make it. And that's why the American Theatre Wing is publishing a new book called “The Play That Changed My Life: America’s Foremost Playwrights on the Plays that Influenced Them.” In it, 19 of the best playwrights working today share their stories about the shows that made that all important difference to them.

The book will be out in December but, in the meantime, the Wing is holding an online essay contest that will give other theater lovers a chance to speak up about the shows that changed their lives.  It could have been your grade school play, your first Broadway musical, a magical touring production or a terrific one at a regional theater.  Whatever it is, ATW wants to hear from you about that theatrical experience and why it meant so much. The contest started Monday and closes at midnight on Sunday, Nov. 29. Entries of up to 350 words will be accepted.

The final judging panel includes
Ted Chapin, the president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization who is also chairman of ATW's Board of Directors; Carol Flannery, the editorial director of Applause Books; the award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang; and me (really, I’m one of the judges). We’ll be evaluating the entries on creativity, clarity, and most importantly, passion. Prizes include a copy of “The Play That Changed My Life” signed by some of the contributing playwrights and other you-ought-to-have-in-your-library books from Applause Books.  Submissions will be posted online and additional prizes will be given based on voting by the public; you can cast your vote through Dec. 11.

In the meantime, the Wing has asked the same question of other people who make shows on and off-Broadway because, of course, just like the rest of us there was a first time for them too. Here’s the answer Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of the Public Theater, gave: 

“I have to say, Hair had an enormous influence on me.  When I was fourteen years old, I had run away from home, I was in England hitchhiking through- I had been hitchhiking through Europe, and I went to the Shaftesbury Theatre in London to see Hair.  And at the end of the production I got up on stage and I danced with the tribe.  And it had this huge impact on me, because I was a very alienated young man and angry and disaffected, and dancing onstage there with that tribe both gave me the feeling that the theatre was a place where I might find a home and I might belong, but it also gave me a sense that America was a country that might have a place for me, that I might be able to find a home in.”

Now, I’m looking forward to reading yours.  You can enter it at

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