Apr/May 2021  •   Reviews & Interviews

An Interview with Jonathan Dorf

by Janis Butler Holm

Author of more than 40 published plays with over 2,000 productions worldwide, including 4 A.M. and Declaration, Jonathan Dorf co-founded publisher YouthPLAYS and is Chair Emeritus of the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights. He holds a BA in Dramatic Writing and Literature from Harvard University and an MFA in Playwriting from UCLA.


Janis Butler Holm     Jon, you're well-known in Los Angeles as the former Chair of the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights and the co-founder of YouthPLAYS, a publishing company—to say nothing of your work as a dramatist. But I'd like to begin with questions about your past.

Where were you born and raised? When were you first drawn to theater? When did you know you wanted a career in stagecraft?

Jonathan Dorf     I was born in Buffalo, New York, but my only memories of three-and-a-half years in Buffalo are snow and Lucky Charms (the cereal).

Next stop was West Chester, Pennsylvania. West Chester in the 1970s was a mixed bag. I had a tremendous first-grade teacher, Peggy Middleton, who encouraged me—I was surprisingly good at math for a future writer—and had me doing long division in first grade. Unfortunately, my second-grade teacher wasn't nearly as invested in pushing me along, and West Chester at the time had very little in the way of academically talented programs. All they had was a one-day-a-week enrichment program. Long story short(ish), the lack of challenging academic opportunities, seasoned with a healthy dash of anti-Semitism—I actually took an ice ball in the eye my mom always thought was related to that—prompted a move slightly east to Broomall and the Marple Newtown School District, which had better academics and where I wasn't the only Jewish kid in my grade.

Theater was something with which I grew up, as I was incredibly fortunate to have culture-loving parents. They had subscriptions to a variety of local theaters, and we'd take periodic trips to New York to see shows. Some of my earliest Broadway memories were shows such as Frank Langella's Dracula, Grease, and one of Shakespeare's histories (maybe a Henry play). During the last of these I fell asleep. But, hey—I think I was five or six at the time.

While I'd always enjoyed seeing shows with my parents and had been bitten by the writing bug in elementary school, I didn't actually write my first play until junior year in high school. At that point, I was editor of the school newspaper and had written short stories, essays, lots of poems (a few were published in obscure literary magazines), and songs. But it wasn't until the newspaper advisor, Tom Williams, suggested I write a play that, well, I wrote a play. A hippie who'd been at the original Woodstock and a fabulous poet in his own right (I still have a Japanese tea can featuring one of his award-winning haiku), Tom not only nudged me into it but dragooned a senior into directing my play, The Storm, in the school one-act festival. This drama was a bit of a Eugene O'Neill rip-off, but people liked it, and the next year I wrote a Sartre rip-off called Death Without Parole for the festival, which also marked my (terrifying) stage-acting debut. (It was also the end of my stage-acting career.)

At that point, I was hooked, but when I went off to Harvard that fall, I still thought I was going to be a lawyer. My cousin Mike, seven years older than I, was in his final year at the law school when I was a first-year. I had the good fortune to see Harvard's vaunted Moot Court (a mock trial) live in the proverbial room where it happens. It was quite the experience (Mike, now a law professor at Cornell, won everything) watching law-school students argue in front of real federal judges (including Justice Kennedy), but I also discovered that night that I didn't want to be a lawyer—my sights shifted to dramatic writing.

JBH     How did you train for a career as a playwright?

JD     Harvard didn't actually have an organized theater program at the time. There were some classes, but on the performance side, theater was almost entirely student-run. Bob Brustein's American Repertory Theater was in residence at the Loeb Drama Center, and students got a couple of mainstage slots per semester, along with about eight slots in the Loeb Experimental Theater (aka "The Ex"), a black box near the top of the list in terms of prestige. Also, there was the Agassiz theater, and many of the houses (Harvard's version of residential colleges) had their own spaces and theater societies (with budgets of varying sizes). At the beginning of each semester, we had something called Common Casting, a week in which almost everything auditioned at once—anywhere from 25 to 40 shows per semester. The bottom line was that, if you could find the space and had the will to do it, you could do it; the advantage of entirely student-run theater is nobody's there to tell you "no."

So I did it—writing, often self-producing, and occasionally directing. The very first show I did was in the Ex. A first-year student scoring a slot in the Ex?! Wow! Well, not quite as "wow" as it sounds. There was something called the pre-season, typically a couple weeks that happened super early, and while there was a great deal of competition for the regular season Ex slots, the pre-season slots were the children nobody wanted: Because we were so early, we didn't get the benefit of going through Common Casting and had a compressed rehearsal schedule, and our entire budget was $50—which basically paid for photocopying the posters. But it was a great way to get a show in the Ex. My show, In the Absence of Light (a trio of one-acts), was directed by Matt Buchanan, one of the first people I met at Harvard (who was wearing a scary German army coat at the time!). We went on to work on a number of shows together, and later to become colleagues at the Haverford School and to found YouthPLAYS with Ed Shockley—though that's a story for later.

I did, of course, take playwriting courses. I began as an English concentrator but eventually petitioned to do a special concentration (specifically in Dramatic Writing and Literature). In essence, I built my own major, which involved a mix of theater theory courses, such as Political theater and the Structure of Drama; supervised reading of scripts for the American Repertory Theater; and coursework in playwriting and screenwriting.

Later—after a six-year detour teaching at Haverford and another year freelancing—I went back to school, this time at UCLA, to earn an MFA in playwriting.

JBH     There's an old saw in theater: "You can make a killin', but you can't make a livin'." Yet you've persistently found meaningful theater-related work to support your writing time. Could you talk about your past strategies for employment?

JD     Honestly, it's tough, because few playwrights can make a living from their royalties alone. Royalties do comprise a substantial portion of my income, but not enough to support me without my doing other things. I'm not sure if I've so much had a strategy for employment as I've tried to take advantage of opportunities as they presented themselves.

After graduation from Harvard, I was fortunate to stumble into the Haverford School theater teaching job, followed later by a couple summer stints teaching grad school in playwriting at Hollins University. I really love teaching, and while I don't love some of the bureaucracy that can accompany a full-time position, I wouldn't mind going back to it at the college level. But in the meantime, given I live mostly in the world of educational theater, I've been able to parlay my love of teaching and writing into regular workshop bookings at schools and conferences. (The nice thing is a lot of different groups know each other, and if you work with one, it's a lot easier to work with another.) In fact, about a year ago, I became a member of the Teaching Artist Alliance, a vetted group of guest artists, mostly people who are mainstays of the educational theater workshop scene, as a way of promoting this aspect of my theater life.

I've also spent years as a script consultant. In many ways, it's an extension of my teaching, but typically I'm working with writers one-on-one to help them improve their scripts. It's gratifying to give feedback, particularly when it helps a writer get published, place in a competition, or get a production.

Of course, the dilemma with any of these theater-related sources of income is that, while they definitely help in the short-term, in the long-term, writing a new play is definitely a better investment for me. On the other hand, I do need to eat.

JBH     What brought you to Los Angeles? How did you become affiliated with (and later chair of) the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights?

JD     My intention after graduating Harvard was to move to Los Angeles, and my parents told me that if I waited a few months, I could have a car (I'd get my mom's car while she took my grandparents' old car). But I got a little restless, so I wrote three private schools and offered to do a free playwriting workshop. Shipley didn't reply at all. Episcopal paid me to do a one-off playwriting lecture. And then there was Haverford. I got a call from Sandy Mercer, Dean of Faculty, and he started talking job.

I went in to meet with Dr. Joe Healey, the headmaster, and there was Harvard Magazine sitting on his office coffee table. It turns out he'd been a tutor (sort of a resident advisor) at Mather House, the same house I later lived in, at Harvard. I did a two-week trial "audition," after which they hired me part-time for the rest of the year, which led to a full-time position for the next five years. That was much longer than I'd ever intended to stay—after all, my hiring truly was an accident—and, before I got any more comfortable, I decided I had to make the move. Truth be told, I was also the head tennis coach, which was super stressful (tennis parents are a very special subset of private-school parents). So I left, spent a year applying to graduate schools (and freelancing), and, given that I'd lived on the East Coast my entire life, it seemed that it was time to try L.A. It came down to UCLA and USC, and the former offered more money. I moved to L.A. in August 2000—and experienced an earthquake within a week of moving here (before my furniture had even arrived!).

To be honest, I don't remember how I originally found out about the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights, but I got involved somewhere circa 2001. Grad students have the energy to involve themselves in lots of things—and at that point, we're too naïve to say no—so, by 2003, I'd agreed to chair the Playwrights' Expo, an ALAP signature event held that fall at Loyola Marymount. It was a success, with over 100 theaters and writers' organizations represented, and in January of 2004, I was introduced as the co-chair of ALAP. I shared those duties with Dan Berkowitz until his sudden passing in December 2019, at which time I became the sole chair until my stepping down in January 2021—17 years at the helm has been long enough.

JBH     Your plays have won a number of awards and resulted in a number of artist residencies. Of which are you most proud?

JD     Without a doubt, being designated United States Cultural Envoy to Barbados in fall 2008. (I think the program may subsequently have been renamed the Arts Envoy program.) To be honest, when they reached out, I was skeptical: Why was this person claiming to be from the National Cultural Foundation of Barbados contacting me out of the blue? It seemed likely to be an Internet scam...but it turned out to be completely real. Barbados, through the US Embassy there, had requested me.

A bit of backstory: Somewhere back in the 1990s, I met a guy who was a writer/consultant through an online writing discussion group. While we ultimately parted ways because I didn't agree with his conservative politics, he introduced me to the folks at the Writers Store. They hired me to create the content for Playwriting101.com, which, probably because of the great URL (Web address), has been one of the Internet's most visited playwriting information sites. Over the years, a number of folks have found me through that, and I believe that's what happened in the case of Barbados (and also my Singapore residencies). To finish the story, my friends at the Writers Store then introduced me to the team at scriptwriting software-maker Final Draft, who hired me to write the playwriting "Ask the Expert" help section that was in some of the earlier versions of FD (e.g., FD 7).

I was in Barbados for a month, charged with helping raise the level of writing. I taught classes, guest-lectured at the University of the West Indies, met with their theater teachers, and judged in their National Arts Festival. I'd never been to the Caribbean before, so this was quite an opportunity to get to know another culture and to work with their writers. As a special treat, because I was affiliated with the State Department during my tenure, I was invited to the election-night party at the US ambassador's residence, which is a big social event on the island. There, together with US and international diplomatic personnel and all of the local dignitaries, I got to see Barack Obama win his first term. What an incredible moment, to be in a country that is majority Black, seeing the first Black American win the Presidency.

JBH     Most of your work is directed at young audiences. How did this focus evolve? Were there specific moments in your past that led you to make a commitment to writing for young people?

JD     I hadn't given a lot of thought to the market or the business side of playwriting—it's not something they really teach you in school—and so during college my sights were on professional theater (regional or off-Broadway, I assume, mostly by default). I was still discovering my writing style, though, after my O'Neill period, I was definitely influenced by the Absurdists and even more so by their intellectual successors, such as Albee and Pinter.

When I got to Haverford, however, my writing mind collided with a practical problem. Sometimes I'd have many more students audition than I had roles to cast. So I started writing little curtain-raisers (e.g., A-Bomb Wedding, Pepperoni Apocalypse, and Twisting Carol) to allow more students to participate. At the time, however, I'd become a resident playwright at City Theater Company in Wilmington, Delaware, and so I was still largely focused on adult-centric plays.

So, even though I started writing plays for young people there, it was only after I left Haverford that my writing for young audiences really blossomed. Again, it involved a little luck, being in the proverbial right place at the right time. Twice.

Choate Rosemary Hall is a prep school in Connecticut and counts among its alums people such as Edward Albee, Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, and some guy who went by the initials "JFK." I used to go through the now-defunct Dramatists Sourcebook fairly religiously, looking for opportunities, and one of the listings was for Choate's "Discovery" program—a summer program where you could develop new plays. I think I'd written them at some point and gotten a polite rejection. But, for whatever reason, they reached out—it helped that I'd just been at another private school. They were in need of a playwright in the summer of 1999 who could be in residence for five weeks and write a play for the students of their arts conservatory. I did just that (that play became Now You See Me), and I returned for two more summers, writing the book and lyrics of the first act of a musical (Day One) and then the most successful of the three commissions, Dear Chuck, which has gone on to more than one hundred productions.

At the same time, my actor-writer-director friend Robert Christophe—we'd been on some bills together at the Brick Playhouse in Philadelphia, and I'd subsequently brought him in as a guest artist at Haverford—had been working with the education department of Philadelphia's Walnut Street theater. He was directing an elementary-school-focused version of The Hobbit, I think, but they were looking for someone to write a pair of pieces for high school/middle school. He recommended me. They hired me to write and direct the plays—I have fond memories of stopping at the Polish hot dog vendor's cart (mustard, relish and onions, please!) outside the Walnut on my way to rehearsal in the early afternoons. While one of the plays, From Lit to Hit, was a one-off because of copyright restrictions, the other went on to become From Shakespeare with Love?, which has had dozens of productions.

From these successes, I started to realize that writing for teens was something I was good at. (More importantly, others thought I was good at it.) I also started to understand—though it took some years to realize the breadth of the problem—that there was a real dearth of good writing for this age group. So many writers believe that theater doesn't exist beyond their Broadway/off-Broadway/LORT (League of Resident theaters) dreams, but there's an enormous educational theater ecosystem out there, and the theater artists of tomorrow deserve challenging, exciting plays. too.

I was fortunate to get both Dear Chuck and From Shakespeare with Love? published relatively early, but there was one more important development from which I benefited considerably: the rise of Playscripts. Founded by the Rand brothers, Playscripts was (and still is) a publisher very much focused on plays for teens, particularly one-acts, and my association with them started with the publication of After Math in 2005. They had the sort of robust digital presence that other publishers simply didn't have at that point, and I think it's no exaggeration to say that they changed the game. Via Playscripts, my name started to get out there more and more, and it made sense, both artistically and financially, to write more plays for teens—it became my "brand."

JBH     How did YouthPLAYS come about?

JD     YouthPLAYS came about—no joke—because of a good URL. In the mid-2000s, as I was getting more into writing for young people, I wanted to find a way to amplify these plays. The URL "youthplays.com" wasn't taken, and so I brought on board my longtime friends Matt Buchanan (from Harvard) and Ed Shockley (with whom I had run the Philadelphia Dramatists Center for several years in the 1990s). Circa 2009, YouthPLAYS was born. Originally, it was a very basic Web site that Matt created, listing our plays that were appropriate for young people. If they were published by someone else, we linked to the publisher's Web site, and if they were unpublished, we became the publisher. Everything was digital, and we called ourselves an "online publisher."

Gradually, we realized that there were a lot of great plays being written for young actors and audiences, and that many of them slipped through the cracks of existing publishers—everyone has a different aesthetic and a limited number of slots. I'm sure we had no idea how much work this was going to be—being published does not prepare you for running a publishing company—but in 2010, we started taking on other writers' plays. Then we realized that, if we were going to go to conferences—there are lots of educational theater conferences—we should have something tangible, so we started doing printed scripts, as well. We now publish over four hundred plays by more than two hundred playwrights in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia, and New Zealand.

JBH     What are the primary themes of your plays? Which play has seen the most performances? What, in your estimation, is the source of its appeal?

JD     My most produced play is 4 A.M., which has had five hundred productions all over the world. It's about a group of teens, all of whom are awake at 4 A.M. They're largely searching for connection, which seems to be a recurring theme in my work. Even during the pandemic, it's continued to receive productions. As luck would have it, it's set almost entirely in teen bedrooms, so it's easy to do virtually.

I don't know that I have a singular theme in my plays, but that larger sense of searching—whether for connection or something else—is definitely something that recurs. In fact, I call Dear Chuck and After Math my "missing persons plays," as both of those deal specifically with searching for someone who's lost. The Locker Next 2 Mine, my play about teen suicide, is about restoring a school's public memory of a teen who's been lost to suicide, and Rumors of Polar Bears follows its characters on their search for belonging and safety in the face of a climate catastrophe.

Among my more recent plays, the one of which I'm most proud is Declaration, which is one of several "issue" plays I've written in my career (Thank You for Flushing My Head in the Toilet and other rarely used expressions was for some years one of the more widely performed plays about bullying). Set before, during and after a school shooting, Declaration required walking a very thin line.

One, people are very dug-in on their views of gun control, and as much as I might wish they'd adopt mine, anything overt would cause audiences to shut down—particularly when there are some groups performing in very conservative areas. Two, I didn't want to write another play that focused on the shooter. I think it's time we stopped giving shooters their fifteen minutes. In fact, I addressed that in the play itself, in "Rally in the Valley of the Shadow Of..." (I named each of the scenes, something I often do—perhaps a little tip of my hat to Brecht.) One student, gathered with other survivors in a staging area outside the school, asks, "Do they know who did it?" and follows a moment later with "Well, we probably knew them." To which another student responds, "So? Now they're just another dude who shot up a school." In Declaration, we never see the shooter, who is not named. We simply know he's male, which is almost always true, and that's enough. Let's give our time to the victims.

Of course, not every play I've written looks to change the world. I enjoy writing parody, and so plays like Harry's Hotter at Twilight and High School (non) Musical exist largely to entertain.

JBH     Different writers have vastly different strategies for getting work done. Can you describe your writing process? Do you have rituals, blocks, pre-production readers?

JD     I wish I were getting more work done—in 2020 it was difficult, largely because I was running two organizations (YouthPLAYS and the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights) more or less on my own after the sudden passing of my colleague, Dan Berkowitz. Add in the pandemic pivot that all publishers and arts organizations were forced to do, and it felt as if most of the year were spent trying to get my bearings.

My style these days tends toward the vignette play—assuming a one-act or longer play (as opposed to ten minutes)—which means plays that consists of a series of scenes and monologues. In educational theater, there are certain advantages to plays like this: their flexible casting and being able to rehearse them in pieces. And I like the form in that you're always moving forward from one moment to the next. It definitely feels a bit like writing for television or film in that scenes are short, but the hope is that they still come across as something that belongs on the stage.

Once I have an idea—which has never been a problem for me—I do what I've come to call a "scene storm," which is basically a way to talk about brainstorming which scenes belong in the show and what people need to be in them.

I tend to write longhand—I have a huge number of college-ruled notebooks around the apartment—and typing the scene into the computer becomes the first step in the rewriting process. Once I get a draft that seems sort of complete, I'll print the whole thing out (I still prefer to edit on paper) and revise and polish. When I have something with which I'm "happy enough," it's time to have a reading. B.C.T. (Before COVID Times), I'd have a group of actors over to the apartment and make them a good dinner. Then we'd read, sometimes several times, with me making changes on the fly. My friend Daniel Rashid has been instrumental in recent years in lining up actors—he's also a brilliant actor (and dramaturge) himself—for the readings, as he's a relatively recent USC grad. (College students/recent grads are great for plays that require teen characters.) After the closed reading, I make whatever revisions I feel are necessary, and then I typically offer a free perusal script in various Facebook or other teacher groups as I look for productions.

Sometimes, in the case of shorts, I've let plays go to print without a production—after workshopping them with multiple readings—but I believe it's important that a longer play be produced first. As I tell students at my workshops, "Plays are written to be produced." As well as something may read, it needs to be on its feet in front of an audience to be fully realized—and to know for sure that it works throughout. That doesn't mean that I won't be talking to a publisher in the meantime (if I'm not publishing the play at YouthPLAYS), but I make it clear that the final draft won't be ready until after production.

JBH     Every writer I've interviewed can point to specific challenges that had to be overcome before (and as) success arrived. What difficulties have you faced in your writing career?

JD     I think no matter where you are in terms of your career, you run into obstacles, but, as in a video game, these shift as you move up in levels or move along in the game.

Early career, it was about what I'd do for a production. Not long after I'd graduated from Harvard and moved back to Philadelphia, I'd written this ten-minute play called Newt Gingrich at Boys Town, and it was a finalist for the Actors theater of Louisville Heideman Award. A theater company in Philadelphia told me they wanted to produce it—in fact, they wanted to produce an entire evening around it. I wasn't going to get paid for it—a red flag now, but at the time, I was just excited that they were going to produce it. Then the artistic director, who was also directing, came to me and asked if—given that the play was so short and they wanted it to be a little more substantial—I could write another scene for it. I said okay, and I wrote another scene, which was unnecessary but fine. I just wanted to keep them happy... and still producing my play.

Sometime after that, the artistic director came back and told me that he felt each of the two characters needed a monologue. I thought this was a terrible idea, but I was afraid that, if I said no, they wouldn't produce my play, so I compromised as passive-aggressively as possible. I wrote the monologues but didn't tell anyone I'd written them, hoping that they'd just forget about them.

Of course, they didn't, and not long before we opened, I had to cough them up. They were fine as monologues, but monologues didn't fit the play at all. On the Monday before we opened, I saw the show—it was not good. What made it worse is that the actors couldn't quite remember their lines or just felt they needed to "act," and, as a consequence, there were pauses between the lines through which you could have driven a truck. The director, no doubt seeing me in shock after the rehearsal, assured me that, by opening, it would better. It wasn't. In fact, this ten-minute play had turned into a forty-minute monstrosity. By the third weekend, when I couldn't talk my friend from New York out of coming to the performance, I literally sat outside, unable to watch my own work. The one saving grace was that the Philadelphia Inquirer, which had given me a good review for another piece of work and had come on opening night, decided not to publish a review; I appreciated the support. Another critic noted, ironically, that the play would have made a great ten-minute play. Ya think?

The whole thing was a nightmare, but it was also a great learning experience that I would summarize as this: They are not doing you a favor by producing your play. I learned to value my work more and to understand that no production is worth it if what they produce no longer feels like the play you wrote.

Of course, it would be remarkably lucky if that were my one and only speed bump, but nobody's that lucky. However, the challenges I've faced as I've started to get a little success are entirely different from the one I've just described. As I got more and more involved in educational theater, I started to understand that publication was the best path forward. When a play is published, that says to a large body of schools and other groups that it's been vetted and has a certain level of quality. Publishing is the best way to market the show widely, since a publisher typically has a larger audience than any individual writer.

I was lucky to get a number of plays published before launching YouthPLAYS. While some of my existing publishers—such as Playscripts, Inc.—were supportive, not every publisher saw it that way. I typically post monologues and scenes on my Web site as a way of driving traffic and promoting the plays from which they come, and one publisher complained about my doing so with the two plays they'd published. They also didn't want to give me contact information for the people who were producing my plays, out of fear that I'd somehow steal this information for YouthPLAYS. It was all downhill from there, and after asking if they'd release me from my contract, I eventually bought each play's licensing rights back for five hundred dollars—which turned out to be a good deal, as I brought them both over to YouthPLAYS, where I recouped that money and then some.

The reality was that, while it was unpleasant to go through at the time, this turned out to be another important learning experience. Obviously, I couldn't have anticipated that the relationship would turn sour because they felt YouthPLAYS was a threat, but what I wish I had understood better then was what constituted a fair publication contract. (For example, I accepted a 50-50 royalty split, which is very low.) Also, I didn't realize how important it is to look for a publisher whose sensibility is a good fit for what you write. But as with the Newt Gingrich production, it was a case of being so happy to be invited to the party that you just say yes without fully understanding what you're agreeing to.

Later, as I've made still more progress, the challenges have shifted again. To use the words of my friend Ed Shockley, at some point, one goes from being a writer to being an author. That means that, instead of writing for a large portion of the day, I'm dealing with all of the ancillary things that go with being a writer who's achieved some success—but not so much that I can have someone else do it for me! I'm responding to inquiries, updating my Web site or social media, or doing one of my regular searches of my name and titles to make sure that no one is producing my work without permission. Unfortunately, copyright infringement is an occupational hazard. Once a play is widely disseminated through publication, it's likely that someone who doesn't understand copyright (which, sadly, includes quite a few teachers) will attempt to stage it without permission. It's happened to me literally dozens of times, which would have been thousands of dollars lost if I hadn't been vigilant. The good news is that, with the Internet, few productions escape notice, but this is time spent not writing.

JBH     The current pandemic has meant the closing of theaters and significant obstacles to getting plays produced. What do you anticipate theater will become post-pandemic? What advice would you offer budding dramatists?

JD     While nobody has a crystal ball, my sense is that we're not going to get back to something that reminds us of what we used to consider "normal" until fall 2021—if we're lucky. During the pandemic, the educational theater world, perhaps more than the professional world, has trudged on. Yes, some schools have canceled their productions, but many others have pivoted to virtual and/or streaming productions. I think that may have something to do with the fact that educational theater often has a curricular or at least a co-curricular foundation. In fact, I created a virtual edition of 4 A.M. for Playscripts, and I'm close to coming up with one for Me, My Selfie, and I for YouthPLAYS. Recently a school produced the full-length rock/pop musical version of 4 A.M. virtually, with more virtual productions planned. So while it may not be the theater we're used to, it's exciting that people are finding ways to innovate and keep going. Sometimes productions are "live" online, while at other times they're recorded, but, either way, the Web has given us an interesting new form that lives somewhere between stage and screen. Some of that could stay with us even when the pandemic is gone. For example, how cool might it be for a group in California to work on a show with a group in Japan?

In the professional world, it's hard to say what theater will look like. On the one hand, I think there could be a tremendous amount of pent-up demand for the arts—at least I hope there will be—but many theaters will have had their staff decimated. So it's unclear how long it will take for them to bounce back—if they bounce back. But if not the institutions that currently exist, let's hope new ones will spring up.

For the writers out there: keep writing. Have readings on Zoom or wherever so that you can continue to develop your plays and your craft. Yes, hopefully things will open back up and more traditional avenues for play production will reemerge, but don't discount virtual or hybrid productions as "not theater." They may not be the theater we're used to, but there's nothing wrong with expanding the definition of our art form. I'm excited to see where this time of innovation takes us and how it may create new traditions, even as we eventually return to some of the old ones.

JBH     Thank you, Jon, for your time and effort in answering these questions during a difficult period in our lives.

JD     My pleasure.


This activity was supported in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Arts and Disability Center at the University of California Los Angeles.