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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Part two of our Q&A with OMPF founder Dominic D'Andrea, in which we discuss things he's learned and what's unique about Boston

We're in the final stretch of preparations for the first-ever Boston One-Minute Play Festival, to be held at BPT this weekend -- January 7-9. Rehearsals are well underway, and directors, playwrights, and actors are offering their thoughts in the Twittersphere (feel free to join the conversation with #OMPFBOS). Proceeds from the event will support new plays in our community, and we hope you'll join us!

Today I offer part two of my Q&A with OMPF Founder Dominic D'Andrea. I feel like I've learned a lot as a festival participant, and I love what Dominic shares about the lessons he's learned along the way, in his five+ years working on this project...and the insights he's gained about Boston.  

And in case you missed it, here's part one

KAM: As you curate and organize One-Minute Play Festivals throughout the country, what do you learn about the communities involved? What have you learned about Boston? Are there themes, issues, styles, etc., that are unique to us?

DD: Wow, these are HUGE questions. I’ll attempt to frame this.

First, it’s important to note that OMPF does NOT tell writers what to write about. OMPF engages writers to create new work specifically for this festival, using a set of offerings: examine and create a relationship to the space of a minute; know what it is for yourself and don’t make an assumption about it; focus on creating a single theatrical moment; start from the smallest possible unit and work up. This unit can be a line, a word, an action, and image, but identifying something and building up to a minute to create meaning/consider the experience the writer is offering. It’s about the navigation of saying something in that space, while making it feel relaxed, considered, and have the opportunity to really land. Working this way as opposed to cramming a bunch of content in, which makes the experience about a clock racing down from 60 seconds. They can approach it any other way too, as long as it can be stages with four chairs lights up/down in under a minute, and provide clear emotional, visceral, or story content. All of this is to say: I give a lot of structural offerings, but never thematic. That’s up to the writer.

I’ve grown to think of the work OMPF does as sort of the ultimate artistic survey/core-sample/cross-section of the work of writers in each community. It really is a conversation between the collective conscious and the individual voice. I basically look at the landscape of the work that comes into me, and try to make connections as to what’s being said.

What I’ve learned is that in every city, every year, many themes, styles, and stories emerge that are totally unique to those specific populations of writers at those specific times. They never repeat themselves in any city.  OMPF looks different each and every time. This says to me that theatre really is a completely local phenomenon, and does not have a broad national identity. I think this is the one thing theatre can do that film and TV can’t: be for, about, and by specific communities. I think the future of the theatre lies in acting locally: looking inward, and not pushing outward. OMPF has informed my value system in this way, and in light of that I try to be really careful to meet writers and artists where they are, as opposed to prescribe much beyond the basic structure.

Dominic D'Andrea
I’ve learned that Boston has a whole lot of writers. There’s a ton of amazing writers that I’ve never heard of before, but have offered very profound work in the space of a minute. These writers are among the hardest working collective group of writers I’ve experienced in the festival before. I often ask for revised drafts, but here, I’ve gotten a dozen plus additional drafts of plays beyond what I’ve required. I’ve learned that there are many different attitudes and perspectives about Boston and New England in these ranks: what it means to be a New Englander. I was not aware of the cultural implications on that level before. I’ve learned there are some major voices in Boston, which are demanding to be heard. I can’t wait to see if the OMPF forum offers any sort of possible conduit for these voices.

It’s always interesting when I go to a new city, because it’s like starting over at square one each time. In NYC we are almost six years deep. The festival, its aesthetic, and the community around it is quite evolved. When going to a new city, there’s a big learning curve the first year, as most of the writers have not done this before. I have been very aware of the need for each festival to have the opportunity to plant its own seeds, make its own mistakes, and evolve based on that local culture. I try to set everyone up for success as best as possible, but in the end: it will never look the same in any two cities. They have all been successful in different ways, and I think that speaks to the strength of the whole thing. I look at this as a long-term investment in a community conversation for years to come, not just a one-off. This is true for Boston. But I am very impressed by the level of participation it started from.

As for themes: I don’t want to give too much away. I’ll say that the MAJOR theme in Boston this year is deep loss. There are many plays dealing with the loss of loved ones, the loss of family, the loss of status, or circumstance, or pride, or money, or the loss of an era. There’s also big racial conversation in a lot of these plays, that’s a little more heightened and pointed than in other cities. I can’t speak to what this is about yet, but I’m really curious to unpack this a bit further. It seems to me, as an objective outsider, that there may be a real deep need to discuss or investigate topics of race that can even go further. I think the work here might just be scratching the surface.  And above all: a style of writing. It’s dialogue heavy work. In SF there were a lot of plays that were gestural or symbolic, and here the work looks like quite the opposite overall. I’ll be curious to see if this changes when the plays are realized in space. 

I’ll say overall: come and find out for yourselves! Come see what’s on your writers’’ minds.

KAM: What have you learned yourself, as an artist, through the experience of curating these Festivals? And what do you hope the communities engaged gain through the process?

DD: Another huge set of questions! For me, I’ll say that OMPF has allowed me to be an artistic leader on my terms and in my ways. It was a change to marry what I know about directing, dramaturgy, the new play culture or “development” (I hate that term!), community-based and applied theatre practice, and the party culture. I’ve learned that what happens at the bar after the event is as important as the even itself. It seems silly, but very true. People having beers and talking in the spirit of art making and community building is an underestimated powerful tool to effect lasting change. Hell, I got the idea for this festival while having a beer and shooting the shit! I’ve learned to look for the gaps: listen to what the artists say they need to investigate or what opportunities they need in their communities, look at the partnering institutions to see what they are missing in their programming, look to see how this kind of programming can bridge gaps, if any. I’ve learned to let the writers set the tone, and set their own goals. My hope is simply that they will engage in this, and see the meaning and the value. I’ve learned how to hold people accountable for their ideas and work: from institutional promises and planning to the engagement in the writing and the executing of the directing.  This includes myself for my own work. I’ve learned how to adjust, set goals, and create a sustainable model for theatremaking that can look different each time.

I’m still learning how to ask for what I need to make this happen in the long-term. OMPF is growing at a rate that is unbelievable. And because it’s a unique model it has unique needs. To be totally honest, I was not completely equipped for the level of success it reached so quickly, so I constantly feel like I’m playing catch-up. It’s been an incredible journey; an exhausting, penniless one for me personally, but I would not trade it for the world. This next chapter in the world of OMPF will be about staffing, fundraising, and publishing.

There will be much more news on this front later. But right now: it’s all about BOSTON!!!


  1. Great interview (and great questions). Can't wait to see the show on Saturday!

  2. Thanks, Pat! I'm with you -- very much looking forward to seeing how all this comes together. It's exciting!