There's been a bunch of controversy swirling around the new play Seven Ways to Get There, now playing at ACT through their ACTLab collaboration in co-production. Brendan Kiley published an article in The Stranger that didn't review the play so much as comment on "how" this play got made.
Kiley's article discussed the behind the scenes funding of the production, mainly from a rich CEO who had experienced the positive nature of men's group therapy in his own life and wanted to create a play that would speak to the idea that men can and should be more supportive of each other and therapy is something more men should seek. Kiley's article suggested this was a new way of funding theater.
A great response to that was posted by Melissa Hillman, from San Francisco, in her every-theater-person-if-not-every-person-should-follow-her blog, Bitter Gertrude.
A lot of the commentary on the web about the show has been about that, often from people who haven't seen the actual play.
As it turns out, not many people are talking to or including the playwright in their analyses or commentary. I thought I should remedy that a little, because he is someone who has been quietly and diligently supporting Northwest playwrights for years and years and years.
Bryan Willis is the actual playwright. Dwayne J. Clark ended up muddying that water by calling himself a co-playwright, which my impression is that people do when they come up with an idea and then work with a playwright on the idea. So, they then get to claim credit for "writing." In this instance, that didn't help Bryan and his effort.
Bryan has been writing plays for decades. He has also been presenting new play readings through Northwest Playwrights Alliance where he has been playwright in residence for years. He has curated a new play reading every single month through this organization for years now. He's done a lot to develop theater in his town of residence, Tacoma.
I bumped into him and he was clearly bummed out by the internet controversy over the play, and also by the lack of support from the theater community he is so deeply a part of. In many ways, he's been forgotten about.
He did do the play "on commission" though anyone who knows how difficult playwriting is can guess that whatever he was paid ended up far less than minimum wage by the time the play got to the stage. In fact, the initial meetings to develop what is now on ACT's stage started in 2011. So, it's not something he popped out in three months and threw up on stage.
He is very proud of his play and the subject matter is dear to him: that men really don't know how to talk to each other and that therapy can play a valuable role. When Dwayne wanted to have a play on that topic, Bryan took it because he really resonated with it, as well. He also told me that he liked the challenge of trying to put something like group therapy on stage. He said it might deter a lot of people, but it was one of the aspects of the challenge that he particularly liked.
The play is locally written, employed a bunch of local people: seven AEA actors and tech people, etc., and could be mounted in a theater that had nothing scheduled at this time. So, we could celebrate all of that. Yet, somehow, much of that is overlooked right now.
The important part for me is that Bryan has been out there, month in and month out, supporting other writers' new work and championing their successes. We can return the favor, see his show, and help him make the next draft even better. There are a lot of audience members who may be coming to ACT for the first time, maybe seeing theater for the first time in a long time, who are enjoying this great cast and well-directed show.
Let's recognize and celebrate Bryan's success, shall we?