Saturday, February 4, 2023

Foreword March

I have just had the thought that I failed to include a Foreword in my memoir Indie Theater Guy. It's too late now, unless we decide to publish a second edition (doubtful). But if there's a sequel or follow-up, you can be certain that I'll be bugging somebody or other to do the honors--because a nice Foreword, written by a colleague who "gets" you, is a lovely way to begin a book.

I should know, because as editor of the Plays and Playwrights anthologies, I was blessed with eleven excellent forewords composed by an impressively smart array of playwrights and theater writers. 

Robert Simonson was the first person I ever asked to create a Foreword, for Plays and Playwrights 2001. (We incorrectly tagged it a "Preface." Oops.) Robert was then an editor at Playbill Online; his play Cafe Society was in our first anthology the year before. Robert's contribution concluded: "He [Martin] is putting new comedies and dramas out where directors, producers, artistic directors, and theatergoers can find them. More than that, he is reinventing the long moribund world of play publishing with vision and enthusiasm." A very nice way to characterize our then-nascent publishing program!

For Plays and Playwrights 2002, our Foreword was by the late Bill C. Davis, author, most famously, of Mass Appeal. I met Bill after my review of his play Avow was published and he became one of's earliest and most enthusiastic boosters. He captured the ethos of what we came to call indie theater beautifully: "The off-off-Broadway theater is the arena where writers can dare fearlessly. Playwrights, along with actors and directors, do not have to apologize for their originality. They struggle with the question, 'What do I want to say?' as opposed to  'What do you want me to say?'"

Mario Fratti, author of the original book of the musical Nine and nearly a hundred other plays as well as a longtime theater critic, was another early great friend and champion of NYTE's work. He graciously penned the Foreword to Plays and Playwrights 2003, in which he talked about the experience common to all critics and reviewers: "At the end of the play we sometimes smile at each other because we are pleased by what we saw; sometimes we do not look at each other. We hate to read disappointment in the eyes of our friends." 

For Plays and Playwrights 2004, I asked another of the authors published in our first anthology to provide the Foreword: Kirk Wood Bromley. He wrote unabashedly about what being part of Plays and Playwrights for the New Millennium had meant to him: "I was ecstatic. To be anthologized has always been a milestone--no, a light-year stone--for writers. It's like being invited to an Important Artists party. It's like coming home one day and all your clothes are new and fashionable. It's like getting an improved hormonal regimen. I felt GREAT!!!"

Stan Richardson, who was one of the most talented and prolific members of's reviewing squad back in the day, introduced me to his friend Steven Drukman, a professor of theater at New York University. Steven consented to provide the Foreword for Plays and Playwrights 2005: "This book is a noble act. Collections like these tell playwrights that they still matter. Now all you have do, dear reader, is appreciate these damned good, important new plays. And then, maybe, pass 'em on."

Trav S.D. collaborated with NYTE on so many projects, especially our long-running podcast series nytheatrecast. His play House of Trash was also featured in our second anthology. So he was a natural choice to pen a Foreword for Plays and Playwrights 2006. In it, he characterized NYTE's mission as follows: "Like the LAPD, Martin's mission is 'To Protect and Serve,' with an emphasis in this case on the latter. Martin's only agenda appears to be supporting New York theater--not selling ads, and not even the gratification of his own vanity. How perverse!" (I admit that my vanity may have been gratified just a little bit.)

The following year, playwright-director John Clancy, founding artistic director of FringeNYC and, later, founding executive director of the League of Independent Theater, provided a Foreword for Plays and Playwrights 2007. He summed up our beginnings with characteristic brevity: "[Martin] put together a website and presto-chango 'Martin's Guide to New York Theater' appears on the web. A few years later, Martin's Guide becomes Martin quits Marriott and with his mom Rochelle moves up to New York and we all end up standing around an auto-repair-shop-turned-performance space [The Present Company Theatorium] talking about some crazy-ass play we just saw."

The Foreword for Plays and Playwrights 2008 was written by Mark Blankenship. Mark's career has veered lately more into the realms of TV and music, but back then he was a young theater writer, just starting out in NYC. He took the long view: "Personally, I like to think about the people who will find this collection in five years, or ten, or twenty. Maybe they'll read it and be shocked, discovering a script that inspires them. Maybe they'll pick it up because one or more of its plays has become famous. Maybe they'll buy it because it's on a syllabus." From your pen to God's ears, Mark!

Plays and Playwrights 2009 was the tenth edition of the series. To mark that anniversary, I asked Garth Wingfield--whose play Are We There Yet? had been the inspiration for our publishing project back in 1999--to write the Foreword. Garth told the story of how Plays and Playwrights came to be (a story I have told many times myself, most recently in Indie Theater Guy): "Our short run was winding down, and I remember thinking, all this work by these talented actors and designers and a very gifted director, and it's going to close and it will be like it never happened at all. And then, snap, snap, snap, right into place: Martin loved it. He raved. And most importantly, he got inspired."

I have known playwright Leslie Bramm since the very beginnings of NYTE, back when he and I were fellow adjudicators for the New York International Fringe Festival. His play Marvelous Shrine is in the 2008 anthology; and he happily contributed the Foreword to Plays and Playwrights 2010: "Aristotle says theater is the celebration of the idea. Nowhere does the idea reign more sublime than in the indie theater movement. From the indie theater movement comes the work that's bold enough to reflect our present culture back to itself. From the indie theater movement comes work that speaks of peace and demands a sense of justice."

The last volume of the Plays and Playwrights series came the next year, in 2011. Kelly McAllister, one of only two playwrights represented twice in these anthologies (Last Call, 2003; Burning the Old Man, 2006) penned the final Foreword. He wrote: "You have in your hand something rare and wonderful--an intensely magic book of theatrical spells; a collection of recipes for meals of the mind; an unfinished poem on the possibilities of art."

Playwrights say stuff better than I can ever hope to; that's why I love hanging around them, and have been honored to receive their writing in the books I edited and published.

So, if and when "Indie Theater Guy Comes Back" or some other such titled opus makes an appearance, you can be certain that I will find somebody to write me a proper Foreword for it.

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