Mobtown Theater in Baltimore is giving a boost to the local playwrights via The Mobtown Playwrights Group (‘MPG’), an exciting project that features audience interactive readings of the works submitted. In the first part of 2 interviews: I interview Brent Englar, who is spearheading the project and giving voice to these unperformed pieces.
What is Mobtown Playwrights Group, and what role do you play there?
In the spring of 2010, Melissa O’Brien and I were working at the same company in Baltimore, but I didn’t actually meet her until a co-worker told Melissa that I was a playwright and told me that Melissa was president of the Mobtown board. We got to talking, and Melissa said she was looking for someone to take over the Mobtown Playwrights Group, which had been run for several years by Mark Squirek, who had done a phenomenal job producing and directing full productions of new plays, but had decided to step down. Melissa and the rest of the Mobtown board wanted to steer the MPG more in the direction of new play development, with three scripts selected each year for a series of readings; we’d still select one for a full production each summer, but the focus for most of the season would be to give the playwrights an opportunity to workshop their plays in a lower-stakes environment.
How many shows a year do you present?
We select three scripts for readings – each script receives four performances over consecutive weekends, to give the playwright a chance to revise based on audience feedback the first weekend and see the revisions performed for new audiences the second weekend (though of course we hope people choose to attend both weekends — one ticket is good for all four performances of a show). Then the board selects one play to receive a full production on the Mobtown stage.
Explain the process for choosing which works make it to the stage.
I read the plays as they are submitted over the summer, and select the three that I feel would benefit most from the MPG process. I try to get a mix of one-acts and full-lengths, comedy and tragedy (though I find that, for readings, the more laughs the better, however many corpses there are at the conclusion). After all the readings have taken place (around March of the following year), the other board members and I decide which play is most ready for a full staging: costumes, sets, props, memorized lines, the works. In making this decision, we take into consideration feedback from audience members who’ve communicated to us their preferences.
What is the range of subject matter you’ve had submitted?
All manner of matter. Last season, we produced a one-act about a woman forced by bankruptcy to move in with her daughter, a dominatrix (Peter Davis’ Girdle Bound); a full-length black comedy about three victims who unwittingly join forces to murder their oppressors (Jessica McHugh’s Fools Call It Fate); and a one-act satire about a world in which babies are birthed by a select group of “breeders” and purchased at big-box stores (D. L. Faulkner’s Welcome to the Good Life, Baby). This season we’re producing a full-length “imagined” history about the woman who became Ireland’s patron Saint Brigid (Patricia Montley’s Brigid of Ireland A Tragedy ); a full-length about a family of privileged New Yorkers whose world crashes down around them in a mess of adultery, bad business decisions, and suicide (Mardee Bennett’s In the Ramble); and a one-act set during the aftermath of a heist gone wrong (Erica Smith’sCome Out and Say It). The scripts we haven’t produced run an equally wide gamut.
How many plays were submitted and by how many playwrights?
We got about 30 scripts each of the past two seasons, by a slightly smaller number of playwrights. (Some submitted a couple of scripts.)
What were some of the most interesting play titles you received?
One writer (Michael Penny) submitted a fully scored “adaptation” of Ed Wood’s semi-autobiographical movie about transvestitism, Glen or Glenda it didn’t quite fit with our mission – it’s more a musical achievement than a dramatic one — but all the same, I really enjoyed it
Ed Wood is one of my favorite films! I’d love to see a musical adaptation.
The playwright has posted the libretto (synched to the film) to the Web.
What is the next show you will be presenting?
Our next show is In the Ramble by Mardee Bennett: December 2, 3, and 9 at 8 pm; December 10 at 2 pm. The final show this season is Come Out and Say It by Erica Smith: February 17, 18, 24, and 25 at 8 pm.
You are a playwright as well – has any of your work been presented through MPG?
No, I decided at the start that I would not be eligible for MPG – I don’t think it would be appropriate to produce my own work. I’ve written half-a dozen full-lengths and one-acts, and a lot of 10-minute plays. I’m part of thePlaywrights Group of Baltimore, an informal organization of local playwrights who meet twice a month at Loyola University Maryland to read and critique our work. We’ve done a number of things together around town — including an evening of readings at The Strand Theatre in spring 2010 – and we participate in the Kennedy Center Page to Stage Festival each fall. This past summer, I produced and directed four of my ten-minute plays in the Capital Fringe Festival in DC – the show was called A Year of Living Dangerously, and especially considering it was the first full production I’ve ever directed, it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and a lot of fun.
Next: Part Two: Three playwrights whose plays were selected by the Mobtown Playwright’s Group to have a full production at The Mobtown Players.