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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Voices of BTM XVI: David Susman

David Susman
Last year was my first experience with the Boston Theater Marathon. I loved it, of course. A full day of theater—what’s not to love? It was a privilege to see my play staged alongside works by playwrights I’ve admired, and to be part of Boston’s theater community.

But I didn’t fully understand or appreciate the magnificence of the event. I was a novice, and I was caught up in my own wide-eyed enjoyment. Since then, I’ve learned a few things. I’ve learned that a play festival—even a “regular” one, a small one—has a hundred moving parts. I’ve learned that a festival organizer has to be, all at once, a logician, a visionary, a personnel director, a motivator, a taskmaster, a promoter, a cheerleader, and a hell of a hard worker. I’ve learned that 53 plays in ten hours is insanely ambitious. Lunacy, really. It shouldn’t be possible. But it happens every year, and happens wonderfully. The fact that proceeds are given to an excellent cause only makes me love it more.

This seems like the right place to acknowledge my debt to Kate Snodgrass, and not just for her extraordinary leadership of the Marathon. Kate and I have never formally met, but she jumpstarted my efforts as a writer. She visited Playwrights’ Platform, the cooperative I had recently joined, and gave a lecture that motivated me to start my work in earnest. Up until that point, I had been thinking about writing plays, vaguely planning, but hadn’t produced a word, untrusting of my own vision and voice. Kate gave practical advice. She directed us to Gary Garrison’s indispensable A More Perfect Ten. She cited a short play she liked, a piece so innovative and unexpected that it cracked things wide open for me. (The play, for the record, was Shawn Sturnick’s Solomon, A Life.) It was exactly what I needed. Go ahead and start, the message seemed to be. Take some chances. Play with form. Mess around. You might just find what you’re looking for.

That was two years ago, and I’ve been writing steadily since. Some of my pieces have been lousy, but some have been good. And when they’re good, I know it immediately, because I feel the same small buzz, the same ripple of electricity, that I felt reading Sturnick’s play. I’ve been lucky enough to get some stagings, but none have been quite as special as the Boston Theater Marathon. 

Last year’s Marathon was an experience unlike any other for me. I was giddy as I drove home from it. That was me you saw on I-93 North, hurtling along in the left-hand lane, gesticulating grandly as I sang with the radio. This year, I plan to drive even faster, and sing louder. 

Don't miss Boston Theater Marathon XVI on May 11! Tickets

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