Gwydion Suilebhan: the “Everyman” of Playwriting…Or maybe just everything

Image“I’m a playwright, a communications strategist, a technology consultant, an arts advocate, a filmmaker, a devising artist, a poet. A husband and a father. A collaborator and an activist. A convener of difficult conversations, maybe. A would-be scientist; definitely an experimenter. On a good day, some of all of those at once.”                                                                                  

Quite a mouthful, isn’t it? Gwydion Suilebhan takes arts advocacy to a whole new level with the various projects he is involved in, from establishing a DC-based playwriting collective, The Welders, to working as a Project Director for the National New Play Network (NNPN), to writing as a poet, playwright, and blogger. Some say he’s “magic,” some say he’s “superhuman,” others say he’s “just a really cool guy.” Either way, there is no disputing Gwydion’s impact on the playwriting world, both on the local and national level. To learn more about Gwydion’s work, I asked him to talk a little more about what he does, and what he will bring to the table at #CityWrights2014:

You dabble in so many different things, like writing, speaking, advising, and arts advocacy; it’s pretty admirable. What area of expertise did you start from, and how did it inform your work within the other multitudes of your life?

I’ve always been a writer. My origin story begins with long hours as a teenager sitting in front of an old manual typewriter. There isn’t a genre or medium in which I haven’t worked, though in some cases it’s been a long while: television, journalism, film, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and eventually theater. Writing led to teaching writing, as it does for so many of us; teaching writing, in turn, made me an advocate for writers more broadly, and when you’re an advocate, you start getting invited to lecture and speak. (It’s work I love and would like to do more of.) Doing all of that during the coming-of-age of the internet, furthermore, meant that I almost couldn’t help becoming an expert in digital communication; it was just what one did, pretty much, during the early part of the 21st century. (Not that I don’t love it with all my heart.) But it all goes back to writing, for me: to observing the world as it is, dreaming the culture forward, and sharing those dreams with the world, one way or another. All I want in this life is to do that and help other people do that. Full stop.

In your affiliation with the National New Play Network, you are overseeing a project known as the New Play Exchange. What will this project do to benefit the relationship between playwrights and producing theatre companies? 

The New Play Exchange is so exciting! Our intent is to replace the outdated technology by which we connect plays and producers in the American theater — by which I mean, of course, the submission process — with new, smarter, more efficient, more neutral technology. For playwrights, the NPX (as we call it) will eventually become the ONE place we share our work, when it’s ready to be shared. Instead of hunting for submission opportunities, preparing our packets and credentials, and sending them out madly all over the place, we’ll share them with the NPX, describing them clearly and tagging them with keywords and relevant metadata (like cast size, genre, and so on). For theaters, meanwhile, the NPX will allow us to end the difficult task of keeping up with submissions and managing slush piles. Instead of accepting new work, we’ll have ONE place to go looking for scripts that meet our precise needs for genre, cast size, subject matter, and other criteria, then record our private evaluations of plays. Most importantly, we’ll be able to tap into the recommendations of literary managers and dramaturgs all over the country, not simply our own staff members. Crowd-sourced, cloud-based script evaluation: it’s the future.

This will be your first year at CityWrights as a panelist for N.N.P.N. and as a Finalist for the City Theatre National Award for Short Playwriting. What is your advice to playwrights attending these types of conferences, and what do you yourself hope to get out of attending CityWrights?

As a veteran of many conferences, I’ll say this: pace yourself. It may feel as if you have to see everything and meet everyone and be part of every single conversation, but it’s just not possible. What you’ll end up remembering — what will mean the most to you — are the impromptu, in-depth connections you make with people: the sort of stuff that happens between sessions or when you just need to take a session off to process what you’ve just learned and you end up chatting with someone new while sitting in a hallway. Be open to spontaneity and exploration. Spend a session writing in the back of the room. Linger in a chat, if you’re so inclined, It’s all very valuable. As for myself and CityWrights? I hope to make new acquaintances, talk about the NPX (and about The Welders and social media, too — I’m sitting on three different panels during my short visit to Miami), and hopefully somewhere along the way to be surprised by something. Or someone. We’ll see!

In your running blog, you have an interesting article titled A Playwright’s Wish List. How did this list come into being, and have you adopted any of these points into your work as an arts advocate?

That particular blog post came out of a series of conversations I was having with other playwrights on Twitter. Several writers of my acquaintance were complaining about the small (and large) indignities we all have to suffer in our work, and I thought it made sense to aggregate them in one place. It’s led to terrific conversations throughout my advocacy work, and though progress comes slowly, I remain hopeful that things will continue to change for us. But I want to use this question to call your attention to this companion blog post about a playwrights code of ethics. I think it’s really important that in asking to be treated differently by our colleagues and collaborators, we also admit to our own responsibility for creating an equitable and healthy two-way relationship. We have to be good partners if we want good partners in return.

Many artists and those in theatre tend to balance multiple titles at the same time, some more extreme than others. What is your advice to people that work on multiple artistic endeavors, or those wanting to do what you do?

I am a poor choice for advice in this regard. I have, throughout my life, done too much; I may still be doing too much, in fact. Becoming a father in the last few years has made me particularly sensitive to the need to pick projects very carefully. I no longer take on anything on if it doesn’t speak directly to my heart OR support my family. (At least… that’s the goal.) But I will offer this one bit of perhaps-useful wisdom. When you’ve got several projects going at once, it’s tempting to retreat from the difficult projects into the ones that seem easier, if only to give yourself a break. Don’t. When a project seems difficult is when it MOST needs your engagement, not the least, so push through. You have to face the difficulty eventually, anyway. Lean in, in other words, rather than out.

Gwydion is attending #CityWrights2014 this June 26th-29th, on behalf of NNPN, where he will talk more about the New Play Exchange, establishing a playwriting community, and networking in the Millennial era. To learn more about Gwydion, visit his website or find him on Twitter @GwydionS.

Gwydion Suilebhan is the Director of the New Play Exchange for NNPN. An NNPN alumni playwright, a founding member of The Welders, and DC’s representative to The Dramatists Guild, Gwydion is the author of THE BUTCHER, REALS, ABSTRACT NUDE, LET X, THE FAITHKILLER, HOT & COLD, CRACKED, and THE GREAT DISMAL. His work has been commissioned, produced, and developed by theaters in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, DC, Baltimore, and St. Louis, including Active Cultures, Centerstage, dog & pony DC, the Ensemble Studio Theatre, Forum Theatre, Gulfshore Playhouse, HotCity Theatre, Rorschach Theatre, Source Theater Festival, the Taffety Punk Theatre Company, Theater Alliance, and Theater J. He writes for stage, screen, print, and throughout the blogosphere, including HowlRound and 2amTheatre.

by  Audrey Polinski


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